What is online harassment?

Online harassment is any kind of abusive behavior that takes place on the internet. It can include cyberbullying, doxxing, swatting, cyberstalking, hate speech, trolling, catfishing, and revenge porn. Online harassment can occur anywhere online, from social media to online gaming and messaging apps. 

Types of online harassment


Cyberbullying is a repetitive and sustained aggressive behavior that occurs online with the intention to bully an individual or group, especially those who are younger or otherwise susceptible. It commonly happens among peers and can take place on social media platforms, messaging apps, and email. 

Behaviors typically associated with cyberbullying include:

  • Denigration, or put-downs. Publicly posting or sending messages about an individual that are harmful, cruel, or untrue;
  • Virtual mobbing. Large groups of people bullying someone online, using hashtags to get others to join in, and sending harassing messages in group chats;
  • Internet pile-on. Similar to virtual mobbing, this involves large groups of people bullying someone, but in this case, flooding the victim with numerous hateful messages;
  • Exclusion. Specifically and intentionally excluding someone from an online group with the intention of causing them emotional distress.

Cyberbullying can also include elements from all the other forms of online harassment on this list. However, online harassment and cyberbullying aren’t interchangeable terms as cyberbullying requires repeated and persistent harassment, often involving some kind of power imbalance. Online harassment, on the other hand, can include isolated incidents and doesn’t necessarily involve a power imbalance. 


Doxxing, short for “dropping documents,” involves exposing someone’s personal information, such as their home address, phone number, or workplace, with the intent to bully or cause them harm. Doxxing can lead to real-world harassment and physical violence.

Here is a list of behaviors associated with doxxing: 

  • Sharing personal information such as the victim’s full name, home address, phone number, email address, and workplace;
  • Exposing social media accounts, including handles and usernames;
  • Disclosing information about family members and associates, including their names, addresses, and contact details;
  • Sharing financial information, including sensitive details such as bank account numbers, credit card details, and income;
  • Leaking private conversations, including messages, emails, and other forms of communication;
  • Leaking pictures or videos that were meant to remain private, which can be used for harassment or manipulation;
  • Revealing personal habits or activities, including daily routines, hobbies, interests, and other personal habits;
  • Sharing medical or health information, such as medical conditions, procedures, and prescriptions;
  • Revealing employment information, including the victim’s workplace, position, and salary;
  • Exposing legal records or issues such as lawsuits, mugshots, and fines;
  • Sharing educational history, including schools attended, degrees, and grades.


Swatting is a dangerous form of harassment that involves making a false report of a serious incident such as a hostage situation or bomb threat at the victim’s location. The intention is to bring police or a SWAT team to the address, putting both the victim and law enforcement at significant risk. 

Swatting can involve:

  • Reporting a fake incident such as a hostage situation, bomb threat, or armed individual that would normally incite an immediate and escalated response or raid from law enforcement;
  • Giving inaccurate or misleading location information for a crime to ensure that law enforcement is dispatched to the wrong place;
  • Live streaming the incident to amplify the potential danger and distress for both the victim and law enforcement;
  • Targeting specific individuals or communities, often with the intent to cause fear, harm, or humiliation. It may be motivated by personal disputes, online feuds, or prejudice.


Cyberstalking is the persistent and unwanted monitoring and pursuit of a victim. Online stalkers use electronic communications and online platforms such as social media and people search sites to find, track, and contact their target, causing them significant distress and fear. 

Here is a list of behaviors most often associated with cyberstalking:

  • Excessively tracking the victim’s online activities, including social media posts, comments, likes, and interactions;
  • Sending unwanted messages to the victim’s phone, messaging apps, or emails, even after being asked to stop, and often with requests to establish contact; 
  • Using threats, intimidation, or coercion to force the victim into engaging in communication or complying with specific demands;
  • Creating fake profiles or using someone else’s identity to conceal their own identity or trick the victim into communicating with them; 
  • Using manipulation and gaslighting to confuse the victim, potentially causing them to question their own perceptions of reality;
  • Seeking personal information regarding the victim, such as their home address, phone number, or workplace, without their consent.

Hate Speech

Hate speech refers to speech, conduct, writing, or expressions that discriminate, incite violence, or promote prejudice, against individuals or groups based on characteristics like race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or nationality. 

Hate speech includes:

  • Using racial slurs and epithets to demean or belittle individuals or groups based on their race or ethnicity;
  • Promoting harmful ethnic or religious stereotypes about specific ethnic or religious groups, perpetuating discrimination and prejudice;
  • Using homophobic or transphobic language targeting individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity;
  • Engaging in gender-based discrimination and speech that denigrates or devalues individuals based on their gender and reinforces harmful stereotypes;
  • Using ableist and disablist language that discriminates against individuals with disabilities or perpetuates negative stereotypes about them;
  • Making xenophobic remarks expressing prejudice or hostility towards individuals based on their nationality or immigration status;
  • Engaging in religious discrimination and using derogatory or offensive language that targets individuals or groups based on their religious beliefs;
  • Using hate symbols, imagery, or gestures associated with hate groups or ideologies that promote discrimination or violence.


Trolling is the act of deliberately provoking someone online, usually with the intent of eliciting an emotional response or disrupting conversations. Individuals who engage in trolling, called trolls, typically engage in behavior meant to incite anger, frustration, or confusion. 

Here is a list of behaviors associated with trolling:

  • Flamebaiting, or posting provocative or controversial statements to spark heated arguments or emotional reactions from others;
  • Using offensive language and insults to provoke others;
  • Directing personal attacks or abusive comments toward individuals, often unrelated to the topic of discussion;
  • Using bait-and-switch tactics, starting a conversation on one topic and abruptly shifting to a different, often unrelated, and potentially provocative subject;
  • Using sockpuppeting or impersonation, making multiple fake accounts or personas to create a false impression of widespread agreement with their viewpoint;
  • Posting satirical content that looks legitimate, often with the intention of misleading or confusing readers.


Catfishing involves creating a fake online identity or persona, often using false information and stolen images, with the intention of tricking someone into forming an emotional connection or engaging in a relationship.

Catfishing typically involves:

  • Creating fake social media or dating profiles using false information, such as a fake name, age, location, and occupation;
  • Using stolen or stock photos and presenting them as one’s own;
  • Fabricating personal details such as a background story, interests, and hobbies;
  • Avoiding face-to-face interactions by refusing or finding excuses to avoid video calls, in-person meetings, or any form of direct interaction that would reveal the true identity;
  • Pretending to have romantic feelings or even love for the victim, often with the aim of manipulating their emotions.

Revenge Porn

Revenge porn, also known as non-consensual pornography, is the distribution or sharing of explicit or intimate images or videos of someone without their consent, often as an act of revenge or retaliation.  

Revenge porn involves:

  • Uploading explicit material to public websites, forums, or social media platforms without consent from the subject;
  • Sharing explicit content with the victim’s friends, family members, colleagues, or acquaintances, often with the intent to embarrass or humiliate;
  • Demanding more images or videos by threatening to release more explicit material unless the victim provides more content;

Using explicit material for blackmail or extortion to force the victim into complying with certain demands or behaviors.

Related online privacy terms


What is the definition of online harassment?

Online harassment is a form of harassment that takes place on digital platforms. Online harassment often includes activities like sending threatening messages, spreading false information, and using offensive language to target individuals or groups, creating a harmful online environment.

Can you sue someone for harassment on social media?

Yes, you can sue someone for harassment on social media by pursuing a civil lawsuit or reporting the incident to law enforcement. The outcome of such a case can vary, however, based on the severity of harassment and applicable laws.  

Is online harassment a crime in the US?

Yes, online harassment can be considered a crime in the United States depending on the nature and severity of the harassment. There are both federal and state laws that address different forms of online harassment, including cyberbullying, cyberstalking, and other malicious online activities.

What is the sentence for online harassment?

The sentence for online harassment can vary widely. It depends on factors such as the jurisdiction, the severity of the harassment, and whether it violates federal or state laws. Penalties can range from fines to probation, restraining orders, community service, and even incarceration.

Can you get a restraining order for online harassment?

Yes, it is possible to get a restraining order for online harassment. However, the specific process and requirements for getting a restraining order can vary by jurisdiction, so it’s important to consult with a lawyer.

How do you report a person that is harassing you?

You can usually report a person that is harassing you through reporting mechanisms present on most online platforms. You can also contact your local law enforcement in more serious cases. 

Updated on: September 15, 2023

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