Click here to download a PDF version.
Introduction: Online #Upstanders
Anyone can be an #Upstander while interacting in the digital world. Social media and texting allow us to connect with others, but negative interactions may cause us to feel sad, hurt, or frustrated. Instead of responding with anger or deleting social media accounts, #Upstanders consistently act with respect, kindness, empathy, acceptance, and compassion in the digital world.
Upstanders make the digital world more welcoming by interrupting bullying behaviors, and by accepting and respecting others’ differences, including race/ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexuality, ability, body size/shape, faith, socioeconomic status, social or political beliefs, social status, or any other real or perceived differences.
What is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is any unwanted, aggressive online behavior that is intentionally hurtful and targeted. It may or may not include a power-dynamic or discrimination based on race/ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexuality, ability, body size/shape faith, or any other difference and it can result in feelings of humiliation, shame, or embarrassment. It is often repeated and it can sometimes be difficult for the target to avoid.
The target is the person experiencing the effects of intentionally hurtful words or actions. Nobody should be defined by the actions of an aggressor, therefore we use this term instead of the word victim.
The aggressor uses words or actions to intentionally hurt the target. The aggressor may be a friend, classmate, teammate, family member, or even a complete stranger, but we prefer to avoid using the term Cyberbully or bully. Instead, this person acted as an aggressor. They should not be bound to carry any label forever. Aggressive behaviors can often be changed through kindness and compassion.
Bystanders are those who notice bullying or cyberbullying but do not intervene or reach out to help.
The #Upstander is someone who interrupts bullying when it is safe to do so. They say, in a kind and assertive manner, that they will not tolerate bullying behavior. If the Upstander feels unsafe interrupting, or If their intervention did not stop the behavior, they will report it to a trusted adult or person of authority. Then, Upstanders reach out to the target to see if they are alright and say, “You are not alone.”
Have you noticed or experienced any of the following behaviors while using a computer or mobile device?
- Hurtful words or actions that felt more extreme or intentionally harmful when compared to friendly teasing or joking.
- Hurtful words or actions that repeatedly targeted the same person and continued even after the aggressor was told to stop.
- Hurtful words or actions that were directed toward someone based on their gender identity, sexuality, race, ethnicity, social status, ability, appearance, or any other real or perceived difference.
- Hurtful words or actions that included derogatory language or slurs based on the target’s gender identity, sexuality, race, ethnicity, social status, ability, appearance, or any other real or perceived difference.
- Hurtful words or actions that intentionally and repeatedly exclude a targeted individual from a social group or events for the clear purpose of inflicting pain, humiliation, or embarrassment.
Remember that not all cyberbullying looks the same. If you’re concerned that it may be an issue for you or someone you know, speak to a trusted adult.
Responding to Cyberbullying
Interrupting Bullying with Kindness and Respect
If you feel safe doing so, respond assertively and with kindness by telling the person that their speech or behavior is unacceptable and will not be tolerated in your community. Always ask the target, “Are you okay?” Let them know you are there to listen. Remind them that they are not alone.
Never share, re-post, or gossip about the hurtful words or actions you observed. This will only make the situation worse for the target. If their hurtful words or action continue, do not respond to the aggressor. Log out and take a deep breath, then speak to a trusted adult. If the behavior continues or gets worse, consider blocking the aggressor or reporting their behavior. Reach out to the target again to see if they are alright. Remember that #Upstanders are always respectful, even when responding to hurtful words or comments.
- If you are a target of cyberbullying, respond assertively, with kindness and respect, if you feel safe doing so. Collect evidence of cyberbullying. If you felt unsafe interrupting, or if the behavior continues after your response, report it to a school leader, trusted adult, and/or the platform moderator. Seek the appropriate mental health services such as your school’s social worker, counselor, or therapist.
- If someone else is a target of cyberbullying, interrupt the behavior assertively, with kindness and respect, if you feel safe doing so. Reach out to the targeted individual with empathy and compassion to ask if they are alright. Remind them that they are not alone, then listen to their experiences. Collect evidence of the behavior together; encourage the target to report the behavior to a school official or trusted adult if it has not stopped. Encourage them to consider discussing their experiences with your school’s social worker, counselor, therapist, or any other mental health professional.
Tyler Clementi was deeply loved by family and friends for his kind heart and bright spirit. At the young age of 18, he became the target of cyberbullying. His story puts a human face on the effects of cyberbullying and has inspired tens of thousands of youth and adults around the world to be Upstanders.
In August of 2010, Tyler began studying at Rutgers University where he was excited to learn, grow, and have the freedom to live openly as a gay man.
One night, Tyler asked his roommate for some privacy because he had a date. Without Tyler’s knowledge, his roommate secretly pointed his computer’s camera at Tyler’s bed, left the room, and invited other students online to watch Tyler in a most private, intimate act with another man.
Many students at the university contributed to the humiliation of this act as bystanders, by not interrupting or reporting what was happening to Tyler.
Tyler discovered what his abuser had done when he viewed his roommate’s Twitter feed. He learned he had become a topic of ridicule in his new social environment. He also found out that his roommate was planning a second attempt to broadcast from the webcam.
Several days later, Tyler Clementi ended his life. He was eighteen years old.
Responding to this tragedy with hope, the Tyler Clementi Foundation works to end online and offline bullying in schools, workplaces, and faith communities.
Accepting and Supporting LGBTQ+ Youth
Tyler’s story makes it abundantly clear that it is necessary for #Upstanders to also be allies for LGBTQ+ youth and other marginalized people in digital spaces.
Bullying behaviors often stem from a real or perceived power dynamic and may include discrimination based on gender identity or sexuality.
LGBTQ+ and other intersectionally marginalized youth may face an increased risk of being targeted by bullying, harassing, or humiliating behavior.
As #Upstanders, it is our duty to accept and embrace the entire spectrum of diversity that exists in the world. Every individual should feel comfortable sharing their full identity.
Be an LGBTQ+ Ally:
- Always speak out against prejudice and discriminatory acts.
- Educate yourself about sexuality and gender identities.
- Listen openly to LGBTQ+ experiences.
- Remember and honor others’ chosen pronouns.
- Respect LGBTQ+ spaces.
The following organizations offer resources for LGBTQ+ youth and their allies:
Understanding the Effects of Cyberbullying
The painful effects of online harassment are often invisible and may be difficult for the target to escape.
Upstanders choose to interrupt cyberbullying because they understand the pain that is inflicted on those who are targeted. They help the aggressors of cyberbullying remember that words matter.
Similar to other forms of bullying, harassment, and humiliation, cyberbullying can go unnoticed and harm internet users without anyone knowing.
What makes cyberbullying so harmful?
- Users can remain anonymous and hide behind their screens.
- Individuals may choose to use more hurtful language than they would ever say offline or in person.
- Hurtful words, gossip, or rumors can travel fast and make the situation more painful for the target.
- Negative words can be hard to escape because targeted individuals see them each time they log in.
- Individuals may fall into a downward cycle, including feelings of shame, without anyone ever noticing.
Safety and Respect Online
Before posting or texting, take a breath, and reread your message. If your message is supportive or encouraging, then go ahead and post it!
If your message is hurtful, derogatory, or attacks someone’s character, consider rewriting it or deleting the message altogether. Never share or re-post a negative or harmful message. Remember: don’t repeat it, delete it!
If you feel safe doing so, always interrupt bullying, harassment, or humiliation with kindness and compassion. Never add to cycles of humiliation by repeating hurtful words. A hurtful joke or comment can be amplified by comments that fail to interrupt cycles of discrimination or abuse. Always choose to be an #Upstander.
Your words matter and choosing to be an #Upstander means replacing potentially harmful words with words of kindness. Far too often, users on social media repeat harmful words that they would never choose in face-to-face interactions.
Your words and actions online should protect yourself and others from abuse. Our online communities should accept all individuals and be free from bullying, harassing, and humiliating behaviors. Online users should never feel excluded because of their differences. They should also never feel that they must engage in negative communication in order to fit in.
First, never impersonate others on social media. Going another name for privacy may be acceptable depending on the platform but you should avoid doing this simply in order to deceive others.
Depending on the platform and your family guidelines, always keep your personal information private. Avoid sharing very personal information such as your location or address. Set strong passwords in order to avoid having your account hacked.
Finally, it is best to interact with trusted individuals on social media. Your online community should be supportive and encouraging. If someone using hurtful words or actions, it may be wise to distance yourself by blocking certain individuals and discussing their behaviors with a trusted adult.
Communicating with Family
Family Conversations about Social Media and Texting
You should feel safe talking with your family about social media or texting activity. Consider using the discussion questions on the following page to start a conversation with your family.
Everyone should keep an open mind during the discussion. Ask questions in order to understand. Your goal is to learn about everyone’s online experiences, not to judge another individual’s behavior.
Your family members are there to help you end online bullying. Consider creating family guidelines together that promote safe and appropriate internet use. After discussing the questions on the following page, talk about what family guidelines could be helpful. Family guidelines might include specific tips from this guide, time limits on digital devices, steps to follow if cyberbullying occurs, weekly check-ins, or rules about specific social media platforms. Communicate regularly about your experiences on social media. You may also find it helpful to seek family counseling in order to further discuss experiences with cyberbullying or online safety.
Choosing Kindness, Empathy, Acceptance, and Compassion
#Upstanders use social media in order to encourage and empower themselves and others. By practicing kindness, empathy, compassion, and acceptance, you can make your online community a better place.
Always seek to understand the perspectives and experiences that may be different from your own. Be kind to yourself: never define yourself by others’ negative words or behaviors. When communicating online, say what you mean and mean what you say. Never post words online that you would not say in person.
If you ever notice someone being treated unkindly, reach out to them and ask, “How can I help?” Tell them that they are not alone and that you stand in solidarity with them, with empathy for their experience of being hurt by another individual. Most of us have felt the painful effects of hurtful language or actions and we can use this experience for good.
Finally, if you’ve been an Upstander online, share your experience with us here so that your Upstander story can inspire others around the world. Together, we can end online bullying for good.
Resources for Download
Download the entire pdf guide here.