What to do if You've Been Threatened Online

Photo: Noam Galai / Getty

Sometimes things can get a little heated on Facebook, Twitter, or in the comments section of your favorite political website. Whether it's an Internet Troll just trying to get a rise out of you, or a mentally imbalanced stranger living in a van down by the river, online threats can be scary and upsetting.

Here Are Some Strategies For Dealing with Threatening Comments Made Online?

1. Assess the Threat

Some people will provoke you online just for their own pleasure. Some people are just Internet Trolls and will try to spark controversy just to stir the pot. You have to decide for yourself if the person arguing civilly with you, trolling you, or threatening your safety.

2. Avoid Escalation

When things start to get heated online, you shouldn’t make things worse by adding fuel to the fire. As much as you want to tell someone off, make your point, etc, you don’t really know the mental state of the person on the other side of the screen. You don’t want to be their tipping point or the focus of their anger.

Take a deep breath, keep a level head, and don’t make the situation worse by provoking them further

3. Tell Someone

If you don’t know whether you should take something seriously or not, you should definitely tell a friend or close relative and let them know what is going on. It’s always good to have a second opinion and it’s a good idea for safety reasons as well.

Have a trusted friend or relative look at any message you think might be threatening and see if they interpret it the same way or not.

4. Never Agree to Meet In Person or Give Out Personal Information

This should go without saying but you should never agree to meet someone in-person who has threatened you online.

They could want your address or other personal information in order to use it to mess with you or harm you.

Never list your home address on social media sites and avoid using your real name on forums or other sites you might encounter hostile strangers. Always use an alias if at all possible and don’t use any part of your name as part of the alias.

You should also consider turning  off the geotagging features of your smartphone. Geotags can give out your precise location as part of the metadata that is recorded when you snap a picture with your GPS-enabled phone.

Check out our article on Why Stalkers Love Your Geotags to find out how you can prevent this information from being added to your pictures and how you can remove it from pictures you’ve already taken.

5. If it Gets Really Scary, Consider Involving Law Enforcement and Site Moderators / Administrators

Depending on the severity of the threat, you may want to consider involving law enforcement and the moderators / administrators of the site. Moderators likely have established policies and procedures for handling this type of thing and can probably advise you on recommended steps you should take.

If you believe that someone has truly threatened to physically harm you or someone you know then you should strongly consider involving law enforcement because a threat is a threat whether it’s made in person or over the Internet.

You should always take threats seriously.

Here are some Internet Crime / Threat-related resources that you might want to look at for further guidance:

OVERCOME Online Harassment and Trolling

The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3)

The Cyberbullying Research Center

SafeKids Cyberbullying Resources