The musician Mia Matsumiya has documented a lot of the online harassment she's suffered on Instagram at @perv_magnet. Her bio expresses her mission succinctly: "4'9" violinist & perv magnet. I've archived 1,000+ messages from creeps, weirdos & fetishists over the past 10 years. I've decided to post them all." An alarming amount of the abuse comes through Facebook messages, invisible to anyone but her. "Anyone ever tell you how sexy you are and how bad they wanna let you face fuck them," begins one unsolicited message from a random person that ends with a smiley face. She also posts submissions from others, one of which reads: "Hey asian whore want to get raped? I know where you live."
Matsumiya has reported her harassment to the police, but it's unclear whether she's reported the repeated abuse to the social networks themselves (as of press time, she hadn't responded to requests for comment). But Facebook knew its structure was to blame: last fall, the company changed its messaging features to remove the dreaded "Other" folder, where any user could contact you. Now, users must send requests to contact someone before they can message them, Facebook tells us, though there's still a "filtered requests" tab buried two levels deep on the desktop version of Facebook that provides a home for potentially hateful noise. Though extreme, what Matsumiya is experiencing isn't rare — a full quarter of women ages 18 to 24 report being sexually harassed online, and 26 percent report being stalked.
If you're experiencing abuse in this or one of its many, many other forms, this article's for you: it is a practical guide to understanding how to report harassment and abuse online, and what to expect from various social networks when you do.
They, unfairly, expect you to do a lot, and it sucks that so much of the burden of protecting yourself falls on you, the person being harassed. Per Matsumiya's account above, sometimes the very structure of the app you're using unnecessarily enables abuse. But many social-media services have started beefing up their trust-and-safety teams and expanding their understanding of all the ways a person can be harassed on their platforms.
The way you'll have to deal with harassment will vary across different platforms, but there are a few best practices that can help keep your case strong.
- Screenshot, screenshot, screenshot. A lot of attacks online come from burner accounts that may be reported and suspended before you can report them yourself, and attacks may also take the form of content that is posted and then deleted, such that it may show up in an alert very briefly and then disappear once the damage is done. Keeping your own record of what is happening not only helps quantify things and keep them straight but also may help you or the platforms establish patterns across accounts or services.* Report accounts, not just content, where applicable. If a user is being relentless or conducting an attack against you, it's often appropriate to report both the content they're posting as well as the account they're using.* Escalate to law enforcement if you're in danger. Unfortunately, most platforms can't respond substantively to harassment that quickly; sometimes they may only take a few hours, but most don't guarantee a response time. If your situation is urgent, know that it's within the purview of law enforcement to respond to a direct threat (unfortunately, many of them may not understand what's going on; you may not be able to count on them to know what Twitter is, but you should at least try to get a report filed). Online harassers don't often substantiate their threats, but it's not worth the risk to assume they won't, or that since it's "just online" it should not be taken seriously.
The basics: Twitter's reporting forms are here. Under "Report a violation," there are different options depending on whether you wish to report harassment, impersonation, or privacy violations.