Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Moms and Cyberbullies

Tips for Safely Making New Friends Online
By Lisa Hurd-Walker
Family Editor,

Finding the Right Site

Think about what kind of friends you are looking for and find the right space online to meet them.

  • If you want to meet people who share your interests, join groups and conversations around those topics. Watch out for politics and religion though, talking about those topics online can get quite heated and sometimes lead to bullying instead of lasting friendships.

  • If you want to meet other local moms in your community or moms with children the same age, there are many mom communities online where you can join groups for your children’s age range or based on geographical location. Some cities also have amazing local mom community websites and listservs you can join to connect with large numbers of local moms.

  • If you want to meet new friends who are going through other similar life experiences (taking care of an elderly parent, health issues, work/life balance etc.) you can also seek out groups online dedicated to those topics.

Signing Up

When you are joining a site where you are looking to make new friends, you want to share enough about yourself on your profile that other people can get a sense of who you are but also guard truly personal information to avoid problems down the line.

  • You can use an alias like “NY Momma” or use just your first name or first name and last initial

  • You should upload a personal icon but not necessarily a photo where you can be identified. Many women use photos of things they love (favorite book, flowers if they’re a gardener etc). Other women use a picture of themselves where they can’t be identified, or they use a similar shot of their kids.

  • When filling in your profile, definitely add your favorite movies, books, life goals and ages of children but be guarded about your personal information.

  • Don’t share your location (you can be vague and say Boston area)
    Never ever list your personal phone numbers, instant messaging name, or e-mail address.

Reaching Out to Make New Friends

Make sure you take some time to get the lay of the land for the new site you’ve joined. Read some posts that interest you and the comments that follow, observe a chat, and confirm that the overall tone of the people in the community is one that you think fits well with your personality.

Once you feel comfortable with the site you’ve selected, find some folks who you could see yourself connecting with and reach out. You can comment on one of their posts or respond to one of their comments.

Another great first step to meeting people is to ask a question. The people who answer you will be those who care about the same issue.

Taking an Online Friendship Offline

Even if you do meet someone online who you really connect with, you should proceed with caution when taking the friendship offline. There’s no need to rush into a playdate at your house, instead opt to meet in a public place the first few times so you can make sure the offline connection feels both comfortable and safe.

What to Do if Bullied Online

Unfortunately, as in real life, you will no doubt encounter people you disagree with, people who are mean, and people you just don’t care for on the sites you visit. In those cases you can usually just cease contact with those people and still enjoy other friends on the site.

You need to take further action though if you feel that someone online is and repeatedly tormenting, threatening, harassing, humiliating, embarrassing, or otherwise targeting you negatively.

  • If you are being cyber-bullied on a website, first immediately stop the activities (i.e. exit the chat room, or don’t post anymore comments on the article)

  • Cease all contact with the bully going forward

  • Make sure to save the messages from the bully and links to them if they are live on a community site

  • If you are being bullied on a social network or online community, report the bullying to the customer support team there and ask for help

  • If you feel physically threatened, in addition to reporting the incident and bully to customer support team where the abuse is taking place, you should report the online harassment and physical threats to your local police and your Internet Service Provider (ISP)

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