According to statistics compiled by the Pew Research Center, fully 40% of Americans report having experienced harassment online. What's more, half of those cite politics as the reason. That's probably no surprise, given the divisive political landscape in America—not to mention the vitriolic atmosphere of online comment sections and Facebook threads.
Text-based interactions that take place over the internet are notoriously tricky to navigate due to the medium's lack of nuance and context. The one-dimensional nature of online discussions can easily lead to misunderstandings, and the slippery slope of such small miscommunications often leads to allegations of cyber-harassment.
Has someone accused you of abusive behavior or making online threats of IRL harm? Take a look at these DOs and DON'Ts to prevent further damage as you try to untangle this troublesome web.
DON'T contact your accuser, hoping to clear things up on your own. This can backfire and land you in even hotter water—particularly if the other party has already retained legal counsel.
DON'T try to erase your cyber-steps. It's understandable that you'd want to wipe out any evidence of your potential misdeeds, but closing your social media account or deleting text messages won't do the trick. Every bit and byte of information on your phone, tablet, or laptop can be recovered. And trying to cover your tracks in this way will look suspicious to investigators as if you had something to hide.
DON'T grasp at straws. Another temptation to be avoided involves third parties, mutual friends, or anyone who may end up being questioned by the prosecutor. Of course, you want to share your side of the story, but even talking to them—or worse, threatening or coercing them—can be misconstrued. Keep your peace and keep to yourself in this situation.
DO refrain from unnecessary internet or social-media activity. If you must maintain an account for your job, remain professional and stay away from your personal socials. Posting responses to the accusations isn't going to help your case. On the contrary, it's likely to hurt your chances of success.
DO stay calm and try to be patient. This ordeal will be resolved eventually. Blaming and berating yourself or the other party could release some built-up tension, but it's not worth the additional legal risks.
DO seek qualified, experienced, and compassionate legal assistance. Consulting with an attorney can equip you with the knowledge, information, and guidance that you need while facing false allegations of online harassment or threats.