How to Support Others

If you witness someone being abused online it can be hard to know what to do. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help others feel supported online. 


First Steps to Take

The guidance in this section comes from the PEN America Online Harassment Field Manual Best Practices for Allies and Bystanders.

Assess your own safety first

Before helping others, it is important to ensure that you are protected. Review what data is available about you online and take steps to remove it. To be better protected, take a look at our guide to securing your online data.

Try to understand what abuse is taking place

Understanding what is happening to the person being attacked can help you decide on your response. Look at PEN America’s glossary of abuser tactics to learn more about how abusers attack online.  

Reach out to the person being harassed

It’s a good idea to contact the person being attacked to see if they would like help and to ask how best to support them. This could include sending public messages of support or helping them to document the abuse.


Further Steps to Take

The guidance in the following section comes from HeartMob’s resource for Bystander Intervention Online.

Distract

One way to provide support is to draw attention away from the harassment by amplifying the original post. Tactics for this include reposting and sharing the content as well as liking and favoriting. You can also distract from harassment in a feed by posting fun or entertaining content to help de-escalate the situation. 

Delegate

Reach out to supportive online groups and communities, such as other journalists or organisations that defend freedom of expression, asking them to post messages of support online. Organised online support can also be a helpful way of drawing the attention of tech companies to the online abuse.

Document

Take screenshots of the abuse and copy the URL. You can then send this in a folder to the person who is being harassed. This will aid the person in documenting the harassment. HeartMob has more details on how to do this as well as how to leverage the support of a vetted community on their platform. Read more about this here.

Delay (reach out)

Keep the person being abused from feeling isolated by reaching out to see how they are. This can take the form of a direct message, or if you know them well, a call. Take steps to reassure them that what is happening is not OK and offer to support them. Examples of support can include helping them monitor accounts and document abuse, in addition to sending them resources. 

Direct

Direct intervention is when you publically align yourself with the person being abused. This could make you a target for attacks so it is important to ensure your own safety before taking this step. Examples of direct intervention include publishing a statement of solidarity or fact checking a claim. Both HeartMob and PEN America have more details on how to do this effectively and safely.