If you’ve got a kid, chances are they play games online.
Ninety-seven percent of teen boys play video games, and girls aren’t far behind at 83%.
It’s easy for parents to control what games their child is playing at a young age, but as kids grow older it becomes harder. Kids get their own devices. They want the games their friends are playing. They don’t always tell their parents what’s going on online.
And that can lead to trouble.
Gaming environments have always been competitive. Once you add in the anonymity of the internet, they can become downright toxic.
A 2019 study by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) revealed 74% of gamers have experienced some form of online harassment, while 65% of people playing games online have experienced severe online harassment, which can include physical threats and even stalking.
Do you know what to do if your child experiences harassment online?
The Lingo of Online Harassment
Online harassment goes far beyond saying nasty things or verbal bullying.
It can escalate into threats to harm the victim, both virtually and in real life.
Harassers may try to drive the victim off the gaming platform by threatening to broadcast personal information online (also known as doxxing) or making threats against the gamer’s personal safety.
According to the ADL study, 29% of online gamers reported being victims of doxxing. This involves divulging personal information about someone without their consent, such as a home address, telephone number, or a gamer’s real name. In some cases, other gamers pile in and join the harassment.
Once this information is online, the harassment can then escalate to swatting.
Swatting occurs when the cyberbully reaches out to emergency services and law enforcement agencies and asks that they respond to a fake emergency at the victim’s house. When law enforcement enters what they believe to be a dangerous situation, such as the fallout of a shooting or a hostage situation, there’s a risk of innocent bystanders getting hurt.
Protections against Online Harassment
Gaming companies have a stake in ensuring harassment doesn’t happen on their platforms.
Many have put measures in place to help players report other players or inappropriate messages.
To find out what protections are in place, search for information on the gaming platform’s code of conduct or community standards. If a gamer’s behavior is violating them, file a complaint.
Here are the community standards and complaints procedures for two of the largest gaming platforms, Xbox and Playstation.
Harassment and defamation are not the only things gamers need to report. Gaming platforms encourage people to report a wide range of incidents, including cheating, posting spam, posting inappropriate or offensive content, or using inappropriate profile pictures and player names.
What Your Child Needs to Know
Online harassment isn’t just some people messing around. It can become serious.
That’s why it’s important that you sit down with your child and talk through how to spot online harassment and what to do about it.
- Step 1: Document and gather evidence. Gathering evidence in the form of digital records is incredibly important if you are being harassed. The evidence is crucial if you need to take criminal or legal action against your aggressor. Since online harassment can cross into real life, you need to have proof of everything that has happened in the digital world. Document all of your interactions with the person harassing you. This means taking and printing screenshots and getting timestamps whenever you can.
- Step 2: Tell them to stop. Tell the person once in writing that they need to stop harassing you. If the harasser tries to get you to engage with them, by denying what they are doing or suggesting that you talk, do not engage. Engaging with the harasser can lead to escalation.
- Step 3: Try not to take it personally. Harassers do what they do because of who they are, not because of who you are. Try to emotionally distance yourself from the scenario. By refusing to let them push your buttons, you are taking away their power over you.
- Step 4: Block and report them. Most games provide players with the option to block and/or report other players. By blocking a player, you can ensure you won’t encounter them on the game again. If the harassment is more serious, you should report the player as well. Filing a formal complaint might mean the aggressor is completely banned from the game as a consequence.
- Step 5: Speak to the other players. It takes a tribe. Speak to the other players in your game about the player targeting you. Some of them may have had similar experiences. Getting an aggressor banned from the game is more likely if there are multiple complaints filed against them.
- Step 6: Reach out to the game moderators. Game moderators can act as both the police and peacekeepers. If the game you are playing has a moderator, reach out to them and make them aware that another player is harassing you.
- Step 6: Know your legal rights. Stay prepared by knowing your rights if you encounter online harassment. We’ve provided a list of resources below.
- Step 7: Contact the police. If the person who is harassing you makes threats or does something that is considered illegal in the real world, you should contact the police.
- Step 8: Step up your internet security. Some people may be more tech-savvy than others in gaining information on you and your online activities. They may go so far as to try to access your email or social media accounts. But you can make it harder for them by tightening up your online security. Set up two-factor authentication and set strong, unique passwords for each account. Look carefully at much information you have posted about yourself online. What you posted may not seem like a big deal, but for an aggressor who is gathering sensitive and personal information about you, your social media accounts can be a goldmine.
- Step 9: Reach out for support. Reach out to your support network. Even if you feel ashamed of what’s happening, this isn’t something you shouldn’t have to deal with by yourself. Online harassment can impact your mental health and make you feel anxious and depressed. Get support.
- Step 10: Look out for others. Anyone is at risk of becoming the victim of online harassment. Don’t be a bystander if you see someone harassing another player. The gaming community is meant to be a safe space for everyone, and identifying and dealing with a troll often needs to be a collective effort.
Resources for Online Harassment and Cyberbullying
There are many support groups and nonprofit organizations devoted to ending online harassment. Here is a shortlist of resources.
- HeartMob: A nonprofit organization powered by activists that aim to end online harassment. The platform provides real-time support for anyone who experiences online harassment and has made available a long list of resources, including helpful guides and more information on the topic of harassment.
- Crash Override Network: A crisis helpline, advocacy group and resource center for people who are experiencing online abuse. The group has made various resources available, including educational materials, referrals, guides and interactive tools, which people can use to inform and educate themselves on online harassment.
- Cyber Smile Foundation: A nonprofit organization working towards ending online harassment and cyberbullying, and promoting kindness, diversity and inclusion online. They offer several articles and guides aimed specifically at the gaming community.
- International Game Developers Association: A nonprofit organization with extensive resources covering how to respond to online harassment.
- Online SOS: A platform providing information and tools to help empower people dealing with online harassment. The nonprofit also offers services such as crisis coaching and referrals to experts.
- Feminist Frequency: A nonprofit educational organization that has put together an extensive guide on how to protect yourself from online harassment.
- Data & Society Research Institute: This nonprofit research organization has compiled a detailed report on online harassment, digital abuse and cyberstalking in America.
Gaming Doesn’t Have to Put You at Risk
Most gamers just want to join a community of people who have one thing in common: a love for games.
Unfortunately, not everyone is doing their part to create a safe and positive online gaming culture.
Two-thirds of online gamers in the U.S. have experienced some form of online harassment, and the harassment doesn’t always end when a player logs off.
Parents need to help their kids spot online harassment and take appropriate action. Online gaming isn’t going to go away. But if our children know how to protect themselves and hold other gamers accountable, the online world will be a safer place.
This article originally appeared on Reviews.com.