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12 ways to spot and stop online bullying and trolls

How to spread kindness instead of adding to the noise

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Social media is a playground for ideas — but also for negativity. Online bullies and internet trolls may flourish in this space, but they don't have to own it. Everyone can take a stand against negative behavior on digital platforms, stand up for friends — and even try to drown out their noise with some care.

Whether you're a parent, a teen or just spend time online, here are 12 ways to help you spot, and potentially stem, negative attacks and stand up for those who may need a friend on their side.

Teenager sending email from smart phone in her bed Someone withdrawing from social situations may be having trouble online Getty Images

How to spot if someone is in trouble

1. If you're concerned that someone may be on social media too much, there are things you can check in terms of their behavior, especially if you're talking about children. Connect Safely suggests looking for signs of a child getting on social media more than normal, or if they're self-esteem appears to be dropping. Perhaps they don't want to go to school. Grades can be slipping. You can also apply these same tips to adults, looking for friends or people you care about who are starting to slip at work in terms of their productivity, or are voicing more negative thoughts.

2. Bullying.gov says that children hiding their device when you're around is a sign that something may be happening online that they don't want you to know about. Are children also choosing to avoid social situations that they used to enjoy in the past? Adults too? This could be a sign that online issues are wading into their real life, and there are concerns you should be bringing up potentially with them.

Person sending mean comment to picture online Pause before you write anything online you wouldn't say to someone in person Getty Images/iStockphoto


What to do if you're confronted with bullying or see it happening to someone you know

3. What's nice about social media is you can create a walled garden — you can keep people out that you want to stay away from you. Again, Connect Safely has some great tips on this, and they do support people choosing to block bullies or trolls. It is important to be able to feel you have some control — and that you can block out the noise.

4. See bullying happen online in your feed? You have a choice not to push that out further. Decide to be the gatekeeper yourself. Project Helping actually tells people to think if they would say something they're about to write, retweet or share to the person if they were standing in front of you. If you can't say it live, don't say it online.

5. Remember that re-sharing, retweeting and responding to bullies also amplifies their voice. You may think your pithy comment back is showing them as the bully that they are, and that may be true. But you're also allowing their message to spread, and giving the negativity more attention, notes Planned Parenthood.

6. If something is taking off online, trolling and attacks that are happening to you or someone you know, consider taking screenshots. Documenting this behavior may sound distasteful, or even painful, especially when all you want to do is remove them from your space, but you may need them as proof. Holding on to evidence is something that bullying.gov does recommend.

7. Just as you should never write an email in anger, so too should you step away from the computer, and pause, before you take action against online bully, recommends Common Sense Media. Breathe and wait for the feeling to pass. Perhaps you'll still be upset in 5 or 10 minutes or an hour. But walking away for a short period that flood of initial adrenaline will pass, and give you some perspective — which can potentially help you avoid adding further fuel to a fire.

Someone comforting another person who is upset and sad Lend support both privately, and perhaps publicly, to someone who is being attacked Getty Images/iStockphoto

8. When someone you know — even an online pal — is embroiled in an attack from a cyberbully, send a note of support, and ask if they need anything. If this is someone who is especially close to you, take the next step by texting or emailing or calling. Tell the person that they're not alone. And why you may not want to amplify the bully's voice, this may be a moment when you should post a note of support.

9. Public Safety Canada, pushed out by the country's government, points out that silence — lack of comments below a troll's attack — may be seen as supporting the bullying. You can also snapshot the attack and push it out to a social media company. And if it's happening to a friend, and both of you are teens or children, bring it to the attention of a trusted adult who can also help too.

Images of apps and emojis on a smartphone Adding time limits to social media apps can lessen your exposure to trolls Getty Images/iStockphoto

How to protect yourself

10. While nothing can completely get rid of trolls who want to start attacking, one thing people can do is change the privacy settings on their social media feeds, suggests Planned Parenthood. Make sure your posts on Facebook only go out to friends, and turn your Instagram account to private. While getting hundreds and thousands of likes and comments may seem great, it's not when those voices are mean and cruel. While you're checking your privacy settings, also remind yourself to keep your personal details about yourself to a minimum. Don't post your home phone numbers, your address, where you work or your school's name. Don't make it easy for someone online to find you in real life.

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11. Add some time limit apps to your mobile device for social media. Apple has this built into the operating system, if you're on iOS. Decide just how much time you actually want to be on social media during the day, set the limit, and then allow your apps to go dark when you've hit that amount of time. While you're there, turn off all the notifications on Twitter, instagram or even messages. The chimes and popups only create a Pavlovian response — to make you respond. Don't. The less reactive you are to posts, the less likely someone is to attack because they can't get an immediate reaction.

Teen using a smartphone in the street Post something positive, congratulate a friend on a new job, or like an upbeat post Getty Images/iStockphoto

Be positive

12. Finally, be positive. Think of posting something good instead of amplifying something bad. Thank someone online for doing you a kindness, or compliment someone for something wonderful happening in their lives. This is where you can amplify — push out someone's good news, a story you think should be read by others.

Sure, we've all seen a lot of cat and dog videos. But a good laugh at a sweet puppy might take the sting away that someone, at that moment, desperately needs.

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