I wish we didn't have to talk about ways to handle online harassment. However mature you and decent you and I might be, there are always going to be people who get off on annoying others. As a forum moderator, I've seen posters (as well as myself) being badgered about a particular topic to the point that, in any other environment, it would constitute harassment. In other words, what used to take place on the playground now sometimes takes place online. Hopefully you won't need this, but here are a few ways to handle online harassment. This is only a basic rundown; more serious and/or threatening cases should immediately be reported to the site's administrators and, if necessary, the authorities. Let's hope it never comes to that. For less urgent cases, however...
1. Don't Respond
One of the first and best ways to handle online harassment is to simply ignore it. The advice your mom gave you about “ignoring them and they'll go away” applies here too; it's no fun for trolls and all-around jerks if they can't get a rise out of you. If you must respond...
2. Confront the Person
Tell the person to leave you alone in no uncertain terms. I know this seems obvious, but it's really one of the most important ways to handle online harassment because it forms the basis of any other action you might have to take. Also, you'd be surprised at how many trolls and cyber-bullies listen when they're directly confronted. Hopefully, this will resolve the situation. In case it doesn't...
3. Keep Records of Any Messages
Keep copies of any harassing emails, instant messages or discussions you receive. It might help to take screenshots of the messages; most forums have some sort of archival system that records what has been posted, but social networks might not. Also, keep records of any responses you've given.
4. Stay Away from the Person/board/subject
Use the “block” feature or, in the case of unwanted friend requests, strengthen your privacy controls. I know you shouldn't have to do this, but sometimes leaving or putting the kibosh on discussing a particular subject is the only way to keep the peace. If nothing else, it will lower your blood pressure.
5. Report It to the Moderators
This mostly applies to forums and other discussion websites, but report unwanted contact to the hosts or anyone else in charge of the board. We do the best we can to stop insult wars before they start, but sometimes the stupid keeps odd hours and outpaces even the best of us. If you see something, say something.
6. Report to the Site Admins (if Applicable)
This might apply more to social networks and chat rooms than forums, but letting the administrators of the site or service know can go a long way in curbing harassment. I'll admit that I'm not <i>completely</i> sure of how they'd do this, but it might be possible for the service provider to trace the harassment back to a particular account or IP address. For more information, visit haltabuse.org. It explains things better than I can. In the meantime, do not respond.
7. Call the Authorities
Hopefully it won't come to this, but there have been extreme cases where someone had to contact the police to stop the harassment. This should especially be done if physical harm is threatened or the harassment is taken offline (i.e. unwanted letters or phone calls).
I hope you'll never need this advice, but these are some of the things I've learned about handling Internet harassment. Again, this is a basic rundown-threats and suspected stalking should be reported to the authorities, not dealt with on your own. Have any of you been harassed online? How did you handle it? What sort of trolls or other things have you seen?