How to Deal With Mean Tweets and Social-Media Trolls

woman meditates at laptop
There's nothing like an online bully to rob you of your zen immediately. (Image: Drobot Dean/Adobe Stock)

Nag. Self-important know-it-all. Scrub.

That’s just three of the names Sarah Spain, ESPN columnist and reporter, has been called on Twitter. The sports veteran has been the target of such mean-spirited messages since she joined the social-networking site back in 2008, and they’ve only worsened with time.

“Now that I’m more established, I get death threats,” Spain told LIVESTRONG.COM at the espnW Women + Sports Summit.

To confront the chronic problem of social-media bullying, in April, Spain and fellow sports anchor Julie DiCaro launched an online PSA called #MoreThanMean. In the four-minute video, the pair sit in a room and have male volunteers — strangers — look directly at them and read aloud malicious messages the women had received.

Sarah Spain receives CLIO Award
Sarah Spain accepts a CLIO Award for the #MoreThanMean campaign. (Image: FilmMagic/FilmMagic/Getty Images)

While the men in the room hadn’t authored the comments, the goal was to show the opposite sex, in real time, how online harassment affects women. And it worked: The men’s discomfort was palpable, and social media exploded with commentary on an “incredible” look at what’s considered an “everyday” experience for many women.

Adults Also Experience Online Bullying

Spain and DiCaro’s stories may seem extreme, but 65 percent of men and women ages 18 to 29 have personally experienced some form of online bullying. That’s according to the results of a study conducted by the Pew Research Center in which victims cited name-calling, humiliation, physical threats, sexual harassment and stalking.

And a survey by Glamour found that 34 percent of women post on social media less frequently and 19 percent feel more insecure in real life as a result of online harassment.

“Being harassed on social media makes people feel profoundly unsafe and vulnerable because of the shame it inflicts,” says Paul Hokemeyer, Ph.D., a New York City-based therapist.

woman texting at bar
About one-third of women post on social media less often because of harassment. (Image: Jovo Jovanovic/Stocksy.com)

Internet Harassment Is Permanent and Public

“Online shaming is meant to challenge a person’s value as a human being on a public platform where little to no remediation is possible. This can make victims feel powerless,” Hokemeyer says.

He adds, “At core, bullies are narcissists who are highly sensitive to any real or imagined threat to their ego, so they lash out to combat that feeling.” Indeed, research shows that cyberbullies tend to lack self-control and empathy and feel superior to others.

What makes online harassment especially toxic is that unlike conventional bullying, which are often contained episodes, the internet is a 24/7 stage where our careers, love lives and friendships unfold and intermingle and photos exist forever.

woman texting
Social media bullying can affect you anywhere you carry your smartphone. (Image: Partha Pal/Stocksy.com)

What to Do If You’re Being Harassed Online

What Do YOU Think?

Have you been the victim of online bullying? How did you handle the situation? What advice do you have for others who have been victims? Share your experiences and suggestions in the comments.

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