Self-Protection Against Cyber Haters and Other Bullies

Read part one: "140 Ways to Hate ... Just One to Despair."

I think many people react quite understandably and sensibly to cyber hate mail by trying to show the bully up as immature and antisocial. However, if the bully thinks he or she has been seen through, that serves to inflame their hatred in a sort of reverse psychology and the situation can become worse. This occasionally leads to what's known as cyber stalking. This most often applies to public figures and celebrities but many HIV-positive people have been the victims of hate campaigns and continued pestering. The bully can apparently find ways to recruit others to his/her cause and uses technology to track the victim's every Internet movement. This can be very alarming, especially if you feel you're being watched at all times -- a classic symptom of being stalked. Upsetting cases have led to exposure in the victim's work environment, as rumors and half truths are spread amongst unwitting colleagues at work. Once in the open, as we all know, Pandora's Box can never be closed. In the end, no reaction at all to the original tweet or comment may be the safest option, however angry or upset you may feel.

You can't always rely on Internet servers and hosts to take appropriate action either, though the following piece of advice may help:

"If you receive abusive emails or flame mails or hate mail, you can forward it to abuse@isp where 'isp' is the service provider the abuser is using, e.g., '' or '' Although Internet service providers may not act on every complaint, the more complaints they receive about a particular individual (with examples of abusive email) the more likely they are to close down the person's account."

More Information: Cyberbullying on the Internet

Psychologists seem to think that the actions of HIV-positive-haters online indicate a need for power, subjugation and domination of their victim and the more you react to their provocation, the more that need is fulfilled. Being reasonable, negotiating and presenting the facts, is of little interest to them; they just want to bring you down as publicly as possible.

I'm not a psychologist or psychiatrist but to my mind, there is probably more to it that that when it comes to bullying LGBT or HIV-positive people online. Fear may play a role, depending on the bully's own circumstances. Fear of the unknown, of things they may have learned in the family, or social group, or even the church, may all play a role in stimulating them to pick out a victim for bullying. Fear of HIV; fear of being gay; sexual frustration or inadequacy; having been accused themselves of homosexual tendencies and many more insecurities may cause someone to lash out in this way. However, the receiver cannot take the risk that there's a cry for help behind the bullying because that sort of Internet reaction will often incur a pre-programmed response from the bully. They will need to get the help they really need elsewhere but if you're being bullied, that's really not your problem.

More Information: How to Stop Hate Mail

So What Can You Do If You're a Victim of Cyber Hate?

First of all, most sources recommend no response at all; however tempting that may be. Don't react and don't engage because you can't argue with a serial bully online. He or she doesn't think or reason like you do.

Secondly, watch out for the first signs of provocation. They can be extremely subtle; for instance, responding normally and even supportively in a forum, or Twitter, or Facebook discussion. It is called "baiting." The idea is to lull you into the feeling that you have an ally but once you engage further, you can end up being sucked into a very negative and damaging situation. Equally you can be baited into reacting strongly against a third party. The bully then sits back and enjoys the products of his machinations. Of course, we should be able to have a communication life online but learning to read certain signals may be a skill worth having. Remember also, sad as it may be, cyber haters are not confined to the heterosexual or HIV-negative population. It may be doubly shocking if the bullying comes from another gay or HIV-positive person but every person has his own story and it happens amongst us too.

We're also advised to keep all abusive mails because they can eventually be traced through IP addresses if the provider is prepared to take action. Cyber bullies are often obsessive and if they lose one email, or social network account, they may come back at you from a different source. Then you will need to be able to compare with messages you've received in the past. You may even need to engage the services of a solicitor to strike back effectively but not everyone can afford that course of action. Still, if the Internet provider won't take action and legal steps are not an option; don't try to do it yourself online; before you know it you may have encouraged other bullies and other stalkers. A comprehensive list of ideas can be found by clicking on the link below:

More Information: Responding to Cyberhate: Toolkit for Action

How Can We Stop This Sort of Behavior?

I don't know the answer to this one. You could limit the problem by doing as I do and not opening Twitter, or other social networking accounts and avoiding forum discussions and chatrooms but why should you? Running away from the problem doesn't solve it as we all know.

I was a teacher for thirty years before illness brought an end to my career and although I taught from ages 8 to 18, I very quickly realized one thing: there comes a point when the kids just don't believe you automatically anymore; they've become more cyber-savvy than you and Google becomes a bigger truth. My favorite age to teach was 10 to 12 because they still accept almost everything you tell them and haven't yet grown into the rebelliousness of adolescence. It's at that age that you can still teach the difference between right and wrong, with the kids having a good idea of what you're talking about. That's not to say that teaching on an LGBT or HIV-positive platform at that age is a good idea. In the best of all possible worlds maybe but not in the current climate where moral outrage plays such a political role. Your job may be worth more than your principles. However, I firmly believe that it's the duty of all teachers to search out situations and deal with bullying of any sort at source; the kids will associate those ideas with particular groups at a later date. Both teachers and kids know that outside the classroom, bullying will happen but thinking it's a fact of life that's out of your control is a very bad teaching philosophy. At that age, children can really understand what it is to respect other people and to reject injustice of any sort. Those lessons may well stay in their minds.

I used to start off by admitting my own mistakes. If I got irrationally irritated at a child for some reason, I would apologize in front of both the child and the class. Then, using the same principle, if one child got angry with another, we would stop whatever the lesson was and deal with it by talking it out right there and then. If necessary, apologies would be demanded and hands would be shaken. I used to tell them that it was our duty as a class, including the teacher, to stick together and work as a sort of extended family to make our long periods of time together positive experiences. Our classroom should be a safe place at all times. We would regularly have discussions and debates on topics of the day and every child was encouraged to speak, in the knowledge that their opinion was as good as anybody else's. In this manner, I was able to introduce abstract social values and apply them to whatever situation the discussion was about. Everybody was encouraged to admit their mistakes, stand up for others and take responsibility for their actions. There was zero tolerance for bullying and every year the success of this policy was proved by the number of unlikely alliances that took place in the school yard. If someone else from the class was being pestered, others stood up for them and nobody was excluded. It was a multi-cultural school; there was no choice! I'm not saying it was perfect; it frequently wasn't; kids fell out with each other as kids do and very often I had to back down from my own injustices (I was frequently taken to task over unfair homework assignments) but in general the children learned how to interact with each other socially based on respect for the other's individuality and allowing for the fact that we can all fail at times. If teachers can somehow instill in children that all forms of bullying are absolutely unacceptable and, at the same time, constantly show why that has to be so, the message may stick. It shouldn't be an impossible task but you can't just write these things on a poster and stick it on the classroom wall; you have to live it as well.

During my last year of teaching, a white, South African, ex-pupil who was then 18, paid a return visit. The first day he'd arrived at the school at the age of nine, he'd told the Nigerian girls in the class that as of that moment they would be at his beck and call (this was before the end of apartheid). It was a cultural shock for him when the girls laughed in his face and told him that's not how it worked in our school. During his visit, he told me something that I've never forgotten:

"I loved being in your class because you taught me how to look at other people in the same way I look at myself and that I wasn't better or worse than anybody else."

If cyber bullies and haters could believe that, maybe cyber space could be a friendlier place.

Further information and references: