There are many downsides to the joys of the internet and social media, but one issue that doesn’t get the attention it deserves is online abuse.
Unfortunately, abuse on social media has become something of a social contagion: according to data from The Office for National Statistics, around 19% of UK children aged 10-15 have experienced some form of online abuse or bullying.
And the statistics aren’t great for adults either. According to a poll by Amnesty International in 2017, over a quarter of women aged 18-55 have experienced threats of physical or sexual assault online.
So, how can you report social media abuse, and does reporting abuse actually work? Let’s take a look.
What is online abuse?
Online abuse can take many forms, and doesn’t necessarily have to take place on social media. Online abuse can include the following:
- General harassment; i.e. persistent insults, messages, encouraging fellow social media users to attack or insult an individual
- Defamation, aka lying about an individual online Using sexist or racist slurs
- Creating fake profiles of an individual to “troll” the individual, or spread misinformation
- Threats of violence or sexual assault
- Threats of doxxing (doxxing means to reveal an individual’s address, workplace, or real name if they post under a pseudonym.)
- Threats or harassment in gaming forums such as Discord or Roblox
- Stalking (this can include creating multiple social media profiles to skirt around being blocked)
Like any type of abuse, social media abuse exists on a spectrum. Certain incidents of online abuse are more serious than others: while some arguments or disputes might be resolved via a direct message, other cases go to the police.
So, how can you report abuse on social media?
If you experience any form of online abuse as outlined above, your first step should be to report the person, before blocking their profile to prevent them from interacting with you further. Here’s how you can report abuse on the most popular social media networks:
How to report abuse on Twitter
Twitter has become the ironically-named “face” of online abuse in recent years, with many MPs even looking to ban anonymous accounts on Twitter to help reduce targeted harassment.
To report someone for abuse on Twitter, you’ll have to click through to their profile and click the options setting on the right hand side of their profile. From the drop-down list, you should select the option “report user”. You’ll then be asked to identify the type of abuse you’re reporting (for example a user pretending to be you, abusive content, threats of violence, harmful content, illegal content, etc.)
Once you’ve reported the abuse, Twitter will review the content and decide whether or not to suspend the account entirely or temporarily suspend it from posting. Most serious violations will result in a permanent Twitter suspension.
How to report abuse on Facebook
When it comes to reporting abuse on Facebook, a user must violate Facebook’s “Community Standards” in order to receive an account suspension. Facebook’s Community Standards prohibit the following:
- Creating fake profiles
- Altered images (for the purpose of creating harm)
- Hate groups targeted against an individual
- Misinformation Photos or videos of physical or sexual assault
- Threats, blackmail, and general harassment
To report someone for abuse on Facebook, you can click the “report” option on a post. This sends the post to Facebook, who will check for community violations and decide whether or not to remove the post.
Once you’ve reported the account, unfriend and block the person to prevent them from messaging you further. You can also make it difficult for them to find you with a second account: tighten your privacy settings and turn off the “let people add me as a friend” feature.
How to report abuse on Instagram
If you encounter bullying, harassment or abuse on Instagram, there are a number of steps you can take when reporting the incident. Typically, online abuse and bullying via Instagram is carried out in three ways:
- Creating a fake profile, usually intended to mock and denigrate
- Uploading harmful stories, reels, or posts intending to cause harm to an individual
- Sending hateful messages (threats, blackmail etc)
If somebody is pretending to be you on Instagram, you’ll need to fill in an online form to help take the account down.
For users who already have an Instagram account, you need to use this form. For non-Instagram users who have been alerted to fake profiles by friends, you need to use this form. Note: You cannot report an instance of impersonation on behalf of another person, as various ID checks will be made in order to suspend the false account.
To report other instances of abuse (such as harrassment, bullying, or intimidation) you need to head over to the account profile and click “report” on the available drop-down menu. You’ll be faced with a list of options, and you should select the option that best corresponds to the situation.
When to go to the police
Online abuse and harassment isn’t just socially unacceptable, it can also be a violation of the law. If you’re experiencing repeated, targeted harassment, you should alert your local authorities and report the user to the police. It’s especially important to alert the police if the user perpetrating the abuse is threatening you with violence.
While most online threats won’t result in real-life consequences, there’s no way to know whether a threat is serious or not. Plus, violent threats are against the law, so perpetrators should be dealt with by law enforcement.
How abuse reporting on social media works
When you report abuse on social media, it isn’t going straight to Mark Zuckerberg’s desk. In fact, your incident of abuse will either go to a “content moderator”, who will analyse the situation and make a decision based on the evidence provided, or an algorithm, which can help determine whether or not the account is abusive.
Algorithms have been highly criticised in the past, as these technologies don’t yet possess the nuance necessary to determine whether content is abusive or not. In some cases, algorithms allowed abusive accounts to continue posting, despite multiple users reporting the content.
How to report fake profiles
One of the most pernicious types of online harassment is impersonation. If somebody is creating a false social media profile and pretending to be you, it can be both irritating and downright scary. Impersonation can harm your reputation and get you into serious trouble – it’s best to act right away if somebody is impersonating you online.
On Twitter and Facebook, you can report impersonation directly from their website. You’ll need an account to report impersonation.
On Instagram, you can report abuse by filling in an online form. You’ll be asked to verify your identity using a government-issued ID, after which the false profile will be suspended.
You can also enlist the help of SEO consultancy services to help prevent false accounts operating under your name. SEO experts can use marketing techniques to ensure that your authentic social media profiles are the first results on Google when someone searches your name, rather than that of your impersonators.
How to report copyright infringement on social media
If users on social media are using your content without permission, you should be able to file a copyright claim and attempt to get the content removed. However, do be aware that posting other people’s content on social media isn’t always considered a copyright infringement.
When you launch a copyright infringement request, don’t forget that you’re launching a legal process. It’s a good idea to read up on each social media site’s “fair use” policies before making a claim.
Here’s how to report copyright infringement on social media:
Twitter and Facebook
To report copyright infringement on Twitter, you can do so directly via the website or app. Head to the drop-down menu and report the post for copyright infringement.
To report copyright infringement on Youtube, you’ll need to submit a copyright claim via Google.
It’s fairly easy to report a copyright infringement on Instagram. You can report copyright infringement by filling out a form.
Online abuse on social media is a serious matter, and one that needs much greater attention and action in the UK. Reporting abusive accounts helps to make the internet a better place, so don’t hesitate to block and report when you encounter abuse.
If you’re a young person experiencing bullying or harassment on social media, make sure to speak to a teacher, parent or guardian and let them know what’s happening. Online bullying is never acceptable, and social media sites will remove any posts that violate their guidelines.