With the ever-increasing popularity of social media outlets, the Internet has been a vehicle for anonymous targeting across university campuses. Like harassment and bullying in real-time, these online incidents can cause pain and fear to victims. While legislation is emerging on this issue and enforcement agencies are beginning to identify best practices to respond to and prevent these incidents, we offer the following information to help students respond to this victimization. Please note that this information is for your reference, but it’s best to reach out to any of the offices named below for further support and assistance.
What is Targeting?
Targeting is a pattern of implicit or explicit behaviors directed toward an individual based upon their identity, behavior, membership in a group or organization, or otherwise, that creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive working, living or learning environment. This can take the form of harassment. The Office of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity defines harassment here. Vanderbilt University’s Human Resources department defines sexual, racial and other harassment in the Work Environment here.
Using technology, harassment might occur through:
- Anonymous posting forums
- Social networking sites
- Websites and blogs
- Text, photo, or video messaging
- Phone calls or voice messages
Online, harassing behaviors could include:
- Targeting an individual based on identity
- Targeting an individual based on behavior
- Targeting an individual based on membership in a group or organization
- Name calling, put downs, defamation of character
This type of harassment may or may not occur simultaneous to real-time harassment.
What To Do if You Are Being Targeted
- Contact any of the departments listed below. They can help you gain support and resources, and identify options for how to proceed. Even if your experience does not meet the legal definitions of harassment, Project Safe, the Psychological and Counseling Center, and the staff in Housing and Residential Education can assist you.
- Keep accurate, detailed records of each incident that occurs. Include as much information as you can: date, time, location, names of each aggressor as well as any witnesses, and a detailed account of the incident.
- Take screen shots or make PDFs of virtual content that include the date and time stamp of the post, comment, message, video, etc.
- Print and save everything that contains offensive comments, posts, pictures, or videos. This includes any social network pages, emails, phone texts, and instant message pages.
- Minimize contact with the aggressor. If you are receiving text messages or phone calls, document the contact and then block the number. If you are being targeted through an anonymous online forum, avoid responding or engaging with the harassing behavior.
- Adjust your privacy settings accordingly. The goal is to balance the information you share for social and professional networking with safety of your personal details. Privacy settings can be adjusted on many social networking sites to control who has access to specific details and identifying information.
- Report harassment to the site and/or attempt to have posts removed. Contact each site for instructions on how to accomplish this or see below:
- Facebook Help Center Guide for Attacks and Harassment: Includes information for reporting harassment thought Facebook’s inbox, public forums, chat, or features.
- Facebook Privacy Guide: Include instructions on controlling privacy settings for your account.
What To Do if a Friend or Loved One is Being Targeted
- Recommend that the individual reach out to staff on campus. See below for a list of offices and departments that can be of assistance.
- Support the targeted individual. Validate and listen to the concerns and experiences this individual is having. Ask the person how you can help them through this experience.
- Do not minimize the experience. Being the target of harassment is a common and painful experience.
- Guard personal information about your friend or family member. Individuals who target someone may seek to obtain information from friends and family members. You may not know that this person is targeting your loved one. If you are unsure why someone is asking for information, talk to the targeted individual and ask them what information they are comfortable with you distributing to others.
- Offer to help. If your friend or family member is being targeted, they might appreciate your help in documenting each post, etc. You could offer to monitor web sites for them, or offer to organize print-outs or screenshots so they don’t need to spend additional time with the content.
- If your friend or family member is targeting someone, tell them that you do not support harassing behavior and think that they should stop. People who target others may think their behaviors are funny, innocuous, or otherwise harmless. Use caring when confronting someone about their behaviors, but remain firm that it is not okay to target someone else.
Vanderbilt University Departments That Can Provide Support
- Project Safe (Women’s Center): 615-322-4843 (business hours) or 615-936-7273 (after hours)
- Housing and Residential Education: 615-322-2591
- Psychological & Counseling Center: 615-322-2571
- Student Conduct & Academic Integrity: 615-322-7868
- Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex Life: 615-322-3330
- Vanderbilt University Police Department: 615-322-2745 (main); 615-343-0883 (Victim Assistance)
- Employee Assistance Program/Work-Life Connections: 615-936-1327
- Equal Opportunity, Affirmative Action, and Disability Services Department (EAD): 615-322-4705
Additional Resources on the Topic
- To Ban or Not? Gossip Web Sites Still Pose Troubling Questions for Colleges, Chronicle of Higher Education; September 27, 2010.
- Colleges Fight Back Against Anonymous Gossip Sites, TIME Magazine, December 7, 2009.
- JuicyCampus Shuts Down, Blaming the Economy, Not the Controversy, Chronicle of Higher Education, February 5, 2009.
- They’re Back, and They’re Bad: Campus-Gossip Web Sites, Chronicle of Higher Education, August 31, 2009.
- Facebook Cyber-Scam Targets Sorority Members, Chronicle of Higher Education; December 3, 2010.
- Will Your College be Covered in Virtual Graffiti?, Chronicle of Higher Education; March 15, 2010.
- Dealing with Bullies, Chronicle of Higher Education, September 12, 2006.
- Untouchable Cyberbullies, Inside Higher Ed, January 26, 2011.