The internet began as a pure place, free of malice and bad manners. Today, rudeness and horror abound. From friends you know and people you've never met, abuse comes in many forms. Maybe it's a nasty comment on a Facebook photo. Maybe it's an insulting tweet. Maybe it's writing "F U SLUT" on your wall over and over and over again.
So what do you do if someone is being mean to you online? Cry? Sit there and take it? No. You survive. You prevail. Here's how to beat the bullies.
Take Threats Seriously
Look, if someone threatens you with physical harm via the internet, go to the police. No matter what. No exceptions.
But if things are less severe...
Take It Offline
If your friend is being a jack arse on the Internet, try to hash it out off the Internet. As magical as it is, the web just isn't a good way to express sincerity. Odds are, you two will misunderstand each other online and exacerbate your spat. Just bury the hatchet face to face.
Tattle On Them
It's easy to talk shit online. And it's just as easy to whine to the authorities about it. There is shame in telling on people in kindergarten, or in the mafia. But not online. Snitching is just a tool in your belt, not a sign of weakness.
Twitter doesn't have a formal policy against being mean. But actual threats, privacy invasion, and spamming are all verboten -- as are "abusive" tweets, which is a little nebulous. If you think you're being abused, not just in the midst of an argument, report the infringing messages here. If Twitter agrees with you, your antagonist will either be warned or suspended.
The same goes for Facebook: Every post can be reported directly to Zuckerberg's internet police -- and luckily for you, victim, FB is much stricter than Twitter. On paper, at least. The Book declares the following for its users:
You will not bully, intimidate, or harass any user.
You will not post content that: is hate speech, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.
It's extremely easy to report stuff you don't like. If Facebook doesn't like it either, the transgressor can have posts deleted or be suspended from the service.
Gmail, like email in general, is pretty much still the wild west. So unless you get a subject line stating, "I'm going to strangle you tonight," you're pretty much on your own. Google provides an abuse reporting area, but really, a call to the police should be your first move. In a trial, emails are certainly admissible as evidence.
The moral high road isn't fun, but if it were, it wouldn't be so moral and high. It might be satisfying to see your foe banned from Facebook or Twitter, but maybe the best satisfaction is not giving them the satisfaction. Harassing tweets? Ignore them. Rude IM? Ignore. Petty Facebook comment? Ignore. The silent treatment is the best way to make a bully bored -- and when they're bored, they'll move on in search of a better reaction.
Seal Yourself Off
Block and delete. You probably don't want something insulting you on your own wall -- what are you, a chump? So delete it and block the infringer. If you really want to piss someone off, hide your wall and photos from the bully without blocking them entirely -- a nice middle finger, albeit not the most mature move. Create a filter on Gmail that'll send their email straight to the trash -- be sure to let them know first. Block 'em on Twitter. It'll be like they never existed in the first place.
And then, there's this. The counterattack. This is risky, and perhaps even ill-advised, but a troll can be shocked into submission by the power of your own typing. I'm ugly? No, you're ugly, and we all know why your parents got divorced. Oh, I'm an idiot because I support [Presidential Candidate]? Here's an educated, 500 word explanation of how you don't have your facts straight. Mic drop. Shut up. Posting an embarrassing picture of me on Facebook? Cool! Here's an album of that time you puked in my basement and fell asleep in it. Maybe I'll tag your parents in the middle of the puddle.
Is this petty? Yes. Will it potentially make your situation exponentially worse? Yes. But is there a perverse joy in fighting it out online? Of course -- it's in the web's soul. Just be ready for a long engagement that publicly degrades everyone involved.
User Manual is Gizmodo's guide to etiquette.