Five steps to beat and survive getting harassed online

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Source: Written by Anith Adilah for the Malay Mail Online

Computer screen displaying toolkit

The Cyber-Harassment Survivor’s Toolkit was launched through its PeopleACT initiative on December 31 last year. Image via Malay Mail Online

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 16 —  For victims of cyber harassment, it is easy to feel helpless and vulnerable, or even to sink into loneliness and despair.

The spiral can be dangerous, even deadly, with instances of suicides stemming from bullying becoming ever more frequent.

The Malaysian Centre for Constitutionalism and Human Rights (MCCHR) aims to ensure victims would never feel that way again, with its Cyber-Harassment Survivor’s Toolkit launched through its PeopleACT initiative on December 31 last year.

Pooling resources from over 500 respondents and 17 cyber harassment survivors, the toolkit includes, among others, a step-by-step guideline to help victims overcome and survive cyber harassments.

“The discussion and suggestion stemmed from one question, ‘What kind of support did you wish you received when you were being victimised online?’” MCCHR project manager Lim Ka Ea told Malay Mail in a recent interview.

In the toolkit, PeopleACT has finalised five steps to take should you encounter any form of harassment online ― be it revenge porn, stalking, or even bullying.

The five steps are summarised as S-K-I-P-S, which stands for: Speak up or stay low, Keep the evidence, Inform someone, Protect your online presence, and Self-care.

1. Speak up or stay low

Lim said the first step is for the victims to assess the situation and react accordingly.

At times, speaking up is vital to let the harasser know that his action is unacceptable, while also informing those who are genuinely unaware that their behaviour was offensive.

In some situations, however, especially when dealing with internet trolls, it may be best to not react as they are likely to lose interest once they fail to get the attention they wanted from you.

“When you make your disapproval known, it shows that you clearly do not welcome the communications. By doing so, you can also inspire others to do the same, thus preventing them from becoming the next victim,” she said.

2. Keep the evidence

Victims should keep a record of the harassment including details such as times, dates and locations of the incidents as well as the communication mediums used; they should also collect details of the harasser and witnesses, if any.

“Having evidence also would substantiate your claims, if and when a formal complaint is needed and avoid people from just brushing you off,” she said.

Lim added that, ideally, victims should immediately start documenting such evidence before they get deleted by the harasser, and keep them in a safe space complete with backups.

“There are many safe places to keep your evidence — your personal computer, an external hard drive, a new email account, and cloud file hosting service such as Dropbox and Google Drive,” she added.

3. Inform someone

Victims should also dispel the fear of judgement and inform others of the harassment they are going through, regardless of its size or severity.

“Based on what real survivors told us, some police may not know how to process the complaint as there is no existing law that deals with cyber harassment unless it involves rape or death threats.

“Do not get discouraged. Police are human beings too and they may get stressed out from work and personal life so make sure you do not get aggressive and bring the necessary evidence with you,” she said.

The group said it even consulted the police’s Women and Child Investigation Division, known as D11, in drafting the guidelines.

4. Protect your online presence

It is also important to constantly protect your online presence to reduce the risk of falling prey to potential harassers in the virtual world, including being cautious about sharing too much personal information.

“Sometimes it’s the smallest thing like leaving the geotagging feature on your phone as this will give away your precise location.

“If someone has malicious intent towards you, they would know exactly where to find you at that point of time, and we do not want that,” she said.

Other tips include using tools that increase browsing security like Virtual Private Network, installing anti-virus, firewall and anti-spyware programmes, and using encryption for person-to-person email.

5. Self-care

Lastly, victims who are feeling vulnerable and emotionally traumatised by their harassments should start taking care of their physical, mental and emotional health.

“This could mean taking a break from social media. If it becomes too heavy, victims or survivors can seek counselling from friends, family, or even organisations like Befrienders or All Women’s Action Society,” Lim said.

New laws needed

MCCHR and PeopleAct said the toolkit was formulated amid their push for a new Act to tackle cyber harassment, claiming the existing Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 is not comprehensive.

Lim pointed out that the main problem with the existing Act is its unclear terminology and what constitutes as “obscenity”, “malicious” and “annoying” comments, making it highly subjective and vague.

The group was in the midst of coming up with recommendations to be submitted to the government but is hitting a wall due to several challenges including what qualifies as cyber harassment crimes, the severity and equivalent punishments.

“It is tricky because we may differ in view, especially in what we may find offensive. Should slurs be punishable? If so, how big a punishment? If not, would it then suggest that it is okay to use slurs in online communication?

“We are still debating over how to best regulate without infringing on people’s freedom of speech,” she said.

PeopleACT had also reached out to all 222 MPs to gain their support to enact the new law, but has so far received feedbacks from a only a few including Kulai MP Teo Nie Ching, Subang MP R. Sivarasa, and Serdang MP Ong Kian Ming.

Lim added the campaign against cyber harassment was also aimed at illustrating how citizens can act towards making changes happen through the process dubbed participatory democracy.

“Now we have more and more people organising protests and vocalising their rights. While this is great, we want to push and do more than just protesting and submitting memorandums. That is participatory democracy.

“If we succeed with this campaign, it will open more doors for real changes to be brought about by real citizens,” she said.

This comes as a United Nations (UN) Broadband Commission report in 2015 highlighted that 73 per cent of women and girls have been exposed or have experienced some form of online violence.

Citing consultants Networked Intelligence for Development, the UN report said women are 27 times more likely to be abused online compared to men, while online harassers are more likely to be men, comprising 61 per cent of them.

recent report by local civil society groups to the UN also revealed that law enforcers not only made light of online violence against women as reported by victims, but treat these incidents as “normal.”

Last month, women’s human rights group Empower Malaysia had also revealed the tactics used by parts of Malaysian society to harass women into silence online ― sometimes through bandwagoning, and at other times, with sinister intent to cause harm.