Cyber-harassment: self-protection tips

Being online gives you access to lots of information, but it also means you are exposed to online abuse. If not responsibly handled, the use of messaging apps, social media and other means of e-communication can be a source of harm: cyber-stalking, cyberbullying, violation of privacy, improper information and image sharing may damage survivors’ sense of safety, self-image and self-esteem. Da’esh has used this kind of tactic against persons who have spoken publicly against them or their ideology. There are a variety of ways to address this type of unwanted communication and protect yourself from its impacts. 

What is cyber harassment?

Cyber harassment is a threat via the use of digital technologies. It can take place on social media, messaging platforms and cell phones. It is a repeated behavior, aimed at threatening, scaring, shaming, and silencing those who are targeted.

Type of cyber harassment

Cyber-intimidation and harassment fall into one or more of the following categories:

  • Harassment and stalking: repeatedly sending threats or hurtful messages via messaging platforms or phone calls.
  • Outing and trickery: engaging someone in instant messaging, tricking him or her into revealing personal and sensitive information. In the specific context of communities victimized by Da’esh this may involve “impersonation”, a trick to test allegiance of “returnees from captivity” and to ascertain whether they are still indoctrinated.
  • Denigration: sending or posting gossip or rumors about a person to damage his or her reputation, friendships or to disadvantage his or her social inclusion.


What can you do to protect yourself?

Experiencing harassing calls and messages can be very difficult emotionally. It is important for you to know that you can protect yourself against such threats. Do not let the bullies silence you! If you think that you are being cyber threatened, the most important thing is to ensure you are safe. Speaking to a trusted person – someone you feel safe talking to – is one of the most important first steps you can take. Then take the following measures to protect yourself:

Information gathering

Try to document the cyber-harassment as much as possible, no matter how insignificant you may think it is. Such information gathering may include saving messages and threatening material, making screenshots, recording calls, tracking times, places and persons involved in the act.

Stop interaction

  • If it is a phone call, calmly tell the threatening person to stop the harassing behavior then hang up and stop all kinds of interaction with the harasser.
  • If it is a post or a text message, do not answer.
  • Identify and record the number(s) used by the harasser to contact you.


Then ignore or block the communications:

One of the strategies can be to block the abusive person from contacting you. Blocking works differently depending on the technology platform or smartphone device. It may be useful to test the blocking feature with someone you trust to see how it works.

Set up privacy settings

  • In addition to blocking the contact, on WhatsApp as well as other social networks you can: turn off “last seen” and restrict unknown people from adding you to groups.
  • Hide your profile photo. This will limit your visibility of your activity on the different social networks.


Report the incident 

It is critical to report incidents to fight against impunity and to stop victimization. 


General tips for cyber-security

  • Think twice before posting or sharing anything online – it may stay online forever and could be used to harm you later.
  • Limit information you post on your account, especially personal details such as your address, telephone number, the name of your IDP camp/city/location, names of your relatives.
  • Make your phone number private. Consider making your phone number, “secret” so the receiver will see “private number” or “caller ID not available” on their phone when you ring. It can help to limit personal data dissemination.
  • Consider opening an account on Signal instead of WhatsApp. Signal guarantees better privacy.
  • Only accept on personal social networks people you know. Do not accept friend requests from strangers.
  • Warn your friends and acquaintances, not to post personal information about you.
  • Don’t post photographs of your home that might indicate its location.
  • Learn about the privacy settings of your social media apps, including who can see your info and blocking/hiding contents options.
  • Deactivate geo-location on all your accounts.
  • Systematically check the background of your videos/Photos before publishing them.
  • Report suspicious or threatening accounts.
  • Keep private and business accounts strictly separate.


Remember, if you are a victim of harassment, you are not responsible for the behavior of the harasser; you should not be blamed in any way.

For more detailed information on cyber-security, please see the following (Cyber’-protection tips for survivors)