I hope you never have to deal with online harassment, but if you do, I want you to be prepared. This episode is all about the different types of online harassment you might experience and some practical tools and advice for responding to it. I share some facts and statistics about cyberbullying and describe when and why I started experiencing an increased amount of online (and sometimes offline) hate.
I also walk you through my step-by-step approach for documenting, reporting, and dealing with online harassment so you can protect yourself and your family in case things escalate. Trolls do these things because think they can scare or threaten bold, powerful, confident women into silence. They’re wrong – and there are things you can do to fight back.
Welcome to the Rich Coach Club, the podcast that teaches you how to build your dream coaching practice and how to significantly increase your income. If you’re a coach and you’re determined to start making more money, this show is for you. I’m master certified life coach Susan Hyatt, and I’m psyched for you to join me on this journey. You’re listening to episode 38, here we go.
Alright guys, I have a different kind of episode for you today. We’re going to talk about how to deal with online haters. So, online trolls, bullies, stalkers, I’ve had to deal with all those things and it’s amped up a bit with the release of my Bare book, and women literally come out of the woodwork to ask me how to cope with it themselves.
And I just thought it was time to give some special attention in a podcast episode with like, what do you do if someone is harassing you online. I’ve got a lot of statistics and I’ve got a lot of techniques and I’ve got a lot of things to offer to keep you safe, so here we go.
So back in 2016, Norton spoke to a group of 1000 women about their experiences with online abuse and harassment, and they did a study and here’s what it revealed. That 50% of women said that they’ve experienced some form of online abuse or harassment. I actually think that number’s much higher.
I think that women are so conditioned to deal with nonsense that you know, getting dick pics emailed to you or a guy saying something really salty to you online has just become the norm. I think it’s probably closer to 90%, but any rate, their study revealed 50%. For women under 30 years old, the number however jumped to 76%. 14% of women said they’d received general threats of physical violence, and 10% of women said they’d been the victim of revenge porn.
And if you don’t know what that is, that’s basically when someone without your permission distributes nude photos or videos. So out of all the women who experience abuse and harassment, only 10% reported the incident to the police. And this seems to indicate that many women don’t know their legal rights. They don’t think it’s necessary to file a police report. They feel too embarrassed or intimidated to say anything to the authorities, or they just like many women, think why bother? They’re not going to do anything anyway.
Online harassment is not a laughing matter. It’s not just annoying, gross, and rude in some instances, and I’ve experienced this. It can be a form of emotional torture, and in most US states, it’s a crime. Writer and feminist activist Soraya Kamali states that online harassment is really about men asserting dominance, silencing, and frequently scaring and punishing women.
And I know about all this type of silencing and punishment because I’ve lived through it. I’ve been writing, podcasting, sharing videos and posting photos online on a nearly daily basis for the past 12 years. In the very beginning, I started out, as many newbie bloggers do, sharing fairly safe, non-confrontational materials.
I’d post a healthy fruit smoothie recipe on my blog or maybe a cheerful anecdote about my family on Facebook. Nothing political, nothing too opinionated, and nothing that might ruffle anyone’s feathers. And as a professional life coach, I’ve always encouraged my clients to be bold and daring and live courageously and tell the world what they really believe.
But I have to admit, I didn’t always follow that advice myself. It took several years before I felt brave enough to share my true self in public spaces, including social media platforms like Facebook. But as the years rolled by, things shifted. My inner activist woke up and she had a lot of questions.
Why are women still earning less than their male coworkers? Why are rape victims still treated with mistrust and skepticism instead of the compassion they deserve? Why are girls still conditioned to be quiet and docile and to never make a scene? Why is there still so much inequality and injustice in our society?
These questions burned in my heart and I couldn’t sit on the sidelines and say nothing anymore. I knew I had to start being braver and I had to speak up. So little by little, I came out of hiding and I started to voice my frustrations online. I started to post honest, personal stories like the story of how I survived a brutal sexual assault.
I stripped away the layers of politeness and niceness and started getting raw and real, and I started to share more of my true feelings on women’s rights, minority rights, LGBTQ rights. I started posting photos of myself wearing my favorite feminist tank top and photos of myself at demonstrations and rallies.
And in each election season, I shared who I was voting for and why, and I became increasingly outspoken and brazen. I also posted photos of myself drinking champagne with clients, traveling to Paris, New York, and London, sailing on the lake and wearing a bikini, even though I don’t have six pack abs. Lifting weights at the gym, playing around with my beloved Instapot, and just living my life.
I made an effort to share all the nuances of who I am. The glamorous parts of my life and the really truly unglamorous parts too. And I kept writing about the topics I care about. Women’s empowerment, personal development, business, money, marketing, creativity, courage and activism.
And with each passing year, as my voice grew louder and more confident, I magnetized even more fans, even more appreciative emails, even more love and support, and I started getting messages from teenagers right here in Indiana where I live, and from women as far away as Malaysia and Australia saying, “Hey, your latest blog post changed my whole day, and because of you I feel like I can do anything.”
I kept writing online and also, I wrote my first book, I started speaking on stage, I got invited to be on TV, I got nominated for a local business award, my face went on the cover of a regional magazine. One time, politicians in Aruba personally greeted me and thanked me for visiting their nation to speak to a group of high schoolers there.
My face was plastered all over the island, totally surreal. And suddenly, I wasn’t just blogging for a tiny local fan based. I’d become a public figure. No, of course I wasn’t Beyoncé level famous, but lots of people were paying attention to what I was writing and posting, and not everybody was impressed.
I’ll never forget the very first piece of hate mail that I received. It was from a fake email account and it said, “You think you’re so hot but you really need to lose about 15 pounds immediately before you post any more photos of yourself in a bikini. Who do you think you are? And you need to shut up before I shut you up permanently.”
I was horrified. I felt sick to my stomach and scared and I could barely sleep that night. I could not believe that someone would write such a horrible thing to me, and I wish I could say that’s the last time it happened but it wasn’t. That was just the beginning. And since then, I’ve been harassed and bullied online more times than I can even count. Even in the past week.
Listen, over the years, I’ve received Facebook comments from people who’ve called me a fake feminist and a puppet of misogyny and who ridicule my work because I don’t dress or behave the way they think a feminist is supposed to. I’ve received private Facebook messages from people telling me to stop posting about equal rights and calling me a whore.
Death threats from creepy men who told me they would make me shut up, outrageous comments related to my TV appearances. One time, the TV station had to temporarily take the video off their website because things boiled out of control. Inappropriate sexual messages and photos, which devolved into stalking at conferences and outside my home.
I even had to hire a bodyguard at one point. Bullying, trolling, name-calling, unwanted sexual advances and propositions, photos of men’s penises that I never asked for, I’ve lived through it all and I hope and pray that you are never subjected to the type of harassment that I’ve experienced. But statistically speaking, you probably will be, and if not you, then your best friend, your sister, or your daughter.
This type of stuff happens to frequently, it’s staggering, and unfortunately, it’s bold, confident, successful women who are targeted more than anyone else. So it’s time for us to fight back and that’s why I created this podcast and if you go to the show notes, there’s an accompanying guidebook to give you some facts and some encouragement and some practical steps you can take if this type of thing ever happens to you, and I hope it doesn’t. But if it does, you will be ready.
So, online harassment comes in several gross, degrading flavors, including number one, cyber bullying. This is when someone harasses or threatens you using any type of electronic communication, whether it’s email, texts, blog comments, a discussion forum posting, public or private social media messages.
And then there’s cyber stalking, and that’s when someone tries to friend or follow you online without your consent, sometimes by posing as someone they’re not. And this actually happened to me once when a man that I’d blocked on Facebook created a fake Facebook profile and pretended to be a woman and then started sending me and my husband creepy sexual messages and threats.
Impersonation. So this is when someone pretends to be you, for example by creating a fake social media account in your name because they want o shame or humiliate you. This has actually happened to a number of online female personalities I know.
Doxing. This is when someone distributes your private information like your phone number or your home address without your consent and trying to get people to come after you. Trolling, alright, this is when someone posts hostile or threatening comments on your blog, on social media, or any other space on the internet.
Trolling is not, “I disagree with Susan’s point and here’s why.” Trolling is, “What a stupid cunt. She should delete herself from the internet and crawl back into whatever shithole she came from.” Those are actual quotes. I didn’t make that up. So trolling is not just when someone disagrees with you. It’s when they call you names and threaten you and say you should die. That sort of thing.
Revenge porn. Alright, so this is when someone distributes private intimate photos or videos like topless photos that were only intended for your boyfriend, girlfriend, or partner, without your consent. Hate speech. This is any type of language that offends, threatens, or insults groups of people based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits.
If you’re being harassed online, it’s a big deal, even if it’s just one comment or just one weird message. Don’t ignore the situation. Take it seriously. And take action to protect yourself physically, emotionally, and legally. So here are five things you can do immediately.
Number one, always take screenshots immediately. Take screenshots of whatever the troll has posted, tweeted, commented, just in case they try to delete it later, which often they do. These screenshots are an important piece of evidence that you might need in the future, especially if things escalate and you need to get the police or lawyers involved.
Number two, report the incident. Report that troll on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or whatever platform you’re using. Google to find the help or customer support page for whatever platform you’re using. Find the appropriate contact form or email address and then say I’ve received… fill in the blank. Hostile, threatening, abusive messages from – and then put their username and include the screenshots you’ve taken and or explain the situation in more detail.
Most of the time, the website or social media platform will take action to protect you and they might even kick the troll off the platform for violating the community standards. In the meantime, if you’re using Facebook, block the troll so they can’t bother you and lastly, contact the police department if you feel unsafe.
Even if you think it’s probably not that big of a deal, it’s just always better to play it safe. Take every possible precaution to keep yourself and your family out of harm’s way. Now, I have heard lots of stories from women about that they’re reported to Facebook and Instagram and nothing has been done. Report it anyway. You just want to do all the things.
Number three, stop engaging. So, this is usually the hardest part for me, and over the years, I’ve gotten better and better at it but don’t try to convince a troll to your point of view, to like you, don’t try to have a reasonable conversation or change their mind. This person might be mentally unstable or they might be wildly angry and completely unwilling to hear your side of things, and most likely, it’s just a dead end conversation and it’s a waste of your time and energy.
So my recommendation, stop engaging, don’t respond, back away. My new personal mantra is I will not argue with strangers on the internet. I will not argue with strangers on the internet. And I’ll say like, nine out of 10 times I’m pretty good at this. And it’s usually that one comment that can get under your skin, and that’s when you have to do your own work and just figure out why. Like, why am I letting this get to me?
Number four here, if you must engage, be firm and say stop. So if someone threatens your physical safety and if you feel compelled to respond, don’t write a long-winded essay. Just be clear and direct. Briefly explain the potential legal consequences of their actions and say stop contacting me.
So if someone texts, emails, or calls you with a threatening message, you could respond by saying, “This type of threatening message that you just sent, texted, emailed, said, whatever, to me, is called cyber harassment and in many US states it’s now considered a crime. A harassment conviction can change from a misdemeanor to a felony and can result in several years jail time. This is your first and final warning. Stop contacting me.”
Now, all this is in the link in the show notes so don’t feel like you have to pull your car over and write it down. We’ve got all that verbiage for you. However, accusing someone of a crime is a serious matter and can be considered liable or slander in some states, depending on the situation. So proceed with caution. Typically it’s best to take screenshots of the threatening message, report the harasser, and notify the police rather than sending a personal message.
So if you need to, definitely talk to a lawyer if you’re not sure what’s best in your situation. I always say you better stop. So I’m like, I send the message and then follow up as needed with any legal stuff that needs to happen. And you know, take care of yourself here. After being harassed, you might feel shaken, anxious, and completely stressed out, and that’s exactly what these trolls want, so don’t let the trolls win.
Fight back by taking care of yourself. Ask a friend to come over and hang out, call your mom, get a massage, make popcorn, watch your favorite sappy movie, take a bubble bath, or go talk to your counselor, therapist, or life coach. Watch a relaxing yoga class video on YouTube and follow along at home, stretch, cry, punch a pillow, log into a safe space like a private Facebook group filled with friends and allies and vent your feelings.
Just get support. Do whatever you need to do to purge the stress out of your body and feel okay again. And keep reminding yourself, I am strong, I will get through this, I will not allow this awful person to wreck my self-esteem, I will not be shamed, I will not be silenced. You’re not the first woman to go through this, and sadly you probably won’t be the last. But you will survive and you will emerge even stronger.
Courage is fire and bullying is smoke. Look for a courageous woman like Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, Lady Gaga, and you’re likely to find some dark, putrid, suffocating smoke nearby. Bullies, troll, stalkers, and creeps love to target strong, confidence, successful women. They think they can shame us into being docile and obedient, they think they can terrify us into being silent. They’re fucking wrong. Don’t let them win.
Thank you for listening to today’s episode. We were talking all about how to clap back at trolls, and if you go to the show notes and click on the link we’ve provided, not only is there an entire transcript of this audio, there are links to organizations like Hollaback, lawhelp.org, and stopbullying.gov that have some great resources for you.
And special thanks to Don Franzen. He’s an attorney based in LA and he offered a few suggestions for my guidebook and thank you to Holly who designed the guidebook for you. And thank you to my Facebook friends and fans for sharing your personal stories about online bullying and harassment and for inspiring me to create this podcast and guidebook in response.
And you know what, thank you to my husband Scott and my kids, Ryan and Cora. They have always lifted me up when the trolls came thundering into my inbox. I love you. And thank you to you, dear listener, for reading the guidebook, listening to the podcast, and empowering yourself with information. Thank you for being a love warrior. Keep speaking up, keep fighting the good fight, and don’t let the trolls drag you down.
Alright, thank you so much listening to Susan Hyatt’s Rich Coach Club. If you enjoyed today’s show, please head over to shyatt.com/rich where you’ll find a free worksheet with audio called Three Things You Can Do Right Now To Get More Clients. You can download the worksheet and the audio, print it out, there’s a fun checklist for you to check off. Just three things to do. Check, check, checkidy-check.
This worksheet makes finding clients feel so much simpler and not so scary. So head to shyatt.com/rich to get that worksheet. Over there, you’re also going to find a free Facebook you can join especially for coaches. Bring your coaching practice and your income to the next level at shyatt.com. See you next week.