More and more, new users come to Scarleteen reporting experiences of bullying and other forms of harassment online or in their offline lives. Often enough -- and understandably -- users new to the site will feel fearful and wary that they might experience that here, too, especially since we address and discuss very personal, and often provocative or heavy topics. As well, many of our users are GLBT, abuse or assault survivors, people with disabilities, sexually active young women, people asking about issues with body parts, young people in general or members of other groups who suffer harassment more often.
When new users discover that harassment of any kind is simply not something they need to be fearful of here, they tend to express not just great relief, but surprise. We're always glad for people to find safe space here, even though we find it disheartening it has become so increasingly hard for people to find elsewhere.
We want to make sure that anyone who wants to use Scarleteen knows we feel very strongly about bullying and other forms of harassment, and have always worked very hard to construct and manage our site and services to assure that they are as safe for our users as possible. While our community is large, it is also one highly populated by kind, caring young people who are generally truly excellent to each other, we promise. We think our users are some of the most fantastic people we know and feel very lucky to have a community so deeply and clearly invested in being good to each other.
We have always been, and remain still, dedicated to keeping all of Scarleteen a bully-free zone. This is not a place where we allow or permit mocking, teasing, name-calling, sexual harassment or other related behaviour. The trade-off for that is that you're less likely to find the kind of boisterous, highly busy debates here you might find on other sites without the same policies and guidelines, but we think it's a worthwhile trade. Our users certainly do engage in debate sometimes, but seem to be able to figure out how to do so without harassment, flaming or put-downs. (Go figure.)
We make every effort we can to prevent harassment and if and when it does occur, are dedicated to responding quickly and proactively.
How do we do that?
Scarleteen is one of the most actively moderated sites online. No portion of the site or its services are a free-for-all without staff or volunteer moderation and we always respond immediately and proactively to any user concerns about their safety or well-being. We also have built-in protections in place to safeguard our users privacy as best we can and prevent harassment.
- On the main site, any area where there can be commentating is actively moderated. Registered users may post comments that go live directly but we check those comments at least once every day. Unregistered users may post comments, but they go into a moderation queue reviewed by staff before comments go live. Any comments, made by either registered or unregistered users, which harass anyone in any way are either removed or are not published. Every now and then, comments will be made towards staff or volunteers which are borderline, and our policy tends to be to post those comments but address those issues directly and calmly while also setting limits, including redirecting readers with complaints they are expressing inappropriately to email so that our users do not have to be privy to them or themselves feel unsafe by their presence. We do not have commenting in every area of the site, and make it unavailable in areas where we suspect individual harassment of our users may be more likely to occur, such as with the advice columns. Commenting on the main site is only available on the blog, polls and the suggestion box.
- Our message boards have an active team of staff and volunteers overseeing them as close to 24/7 as possible. We hold all participants to the guidelines very strictly, including the portions of the guidelines which make clear that harassment of any kind will not be tolerated here, and users who engage in it will lose the right to participate in our community spaces. Our staff, volunteers, and many of our users, as well, have each other's backs and work together to make sure everyone remains on board with keeping the space as safe as possible for everyone.
- Our text service is only answered by staff and volunteers, and its history is reviewed regularly. Users using the text service may not text one another: it is only for user-to-staff or volunteer direct, private communication.
- Per our guidelines, users may not post personally identifying information at the site: that includes email addresses, post addresses, full names, links to personal websites or social media accounts, IM handles or photographs. If and when users do post that information, we remove it ourselves quickly or ask the user to remove it. This protects users from possible harassment away from the site due to a reader or another user tracking them elsewhere. This policy is also applied to a user talking about anyone else. For example, if a user posts about another person in their lives and includes anything which may personally identify that person, it is also removed. We also ask users registering accounts to make a point of choosing a handle which does not identify them personally in any way and is not a handle they use anywhere else.
- Only registered users may see the profiles, on the main site or boards, of other registered users. Again, those profiles should not contain personally identifying information regardless, and if we see and recognize it posted within them, we will edit it out.
- We keep features like private messaging or user-to-user email contact turned off at Scarleteen. Users may not contact one another privately in any way or be contacted privately by anyone but staff or volunteers on any of Scarleteen's services. The areas of the site and its services where users may interact with one another are all public and are all actively and rigorously moderated.
What if harassment does happen at Scarleteen?
It is highly unusual and has very rarely occurred. If and when it does occur, our staff and volunteers have usually seen it quickly and already responded, either by removing or editing a post, issuing a warning to the person engaging in any harassment
But if you do know or suspect you or someone else is being bullied or harassed here and you have not yet seen a staff or volunteer response, please report it to us immediately and we address it as soon as possible, typically with a wait of no more than a couple hours. On the main site, you can contact us about that by sending us an email via the "contact us" link to your left, and also on the bottom of every page of the website. On the message boards, every page has a button for notifying moderators. You can also always create a thread on the boards to bring our attention to a possible problem. Do not worry about bothering or troubling us if you are unsure if something is harassment or feel like it shouldn't bother you. We think feeling safe is very important, and want everyone to feel safe here. Plus, if any one person doesn't feel safe, it's likely they're not alone, so figure that notifying us about your concern also is about more than just keeping you safe. It's something you can do that benefits everyone.
We also maintain all of these same practices and protocols with our Facebook and Twitter accounts. We ask participants with our accounts in those venues to abide by the same guidelines we hold users to on our website, and will block users or delete comments in either area which harass anyone in any way.
If you ever have any questions or concerns about the safety of this space for yourself or others, or have any issue at all with harassment here, please feel free to contact us. We are always happy to take the time to address your concerns, and want to support you as best we can in keeping yourself safe and free of bullying and other harassment.
What if I'm being bullied or harassed on another site?
Our users have sometimes asked for our help with harassment and bullying at other sites. Ultimately, we can rarely do anything about that, since the only site we have any control over is this one.
However, should you experience harassment or bullying online elsewhere, we suggest you do the following. in this order:
- Tell the person or group harassing you to stop, simply, calmly and clearly; publicly, not privately. Statements like, "Please stop calling me names," or "Please do not interact with me directly here anymore," or "I feel what you are saying is harassment and I am asking you to please stop," are some basic ways to do that. You want to avoid contacting a bully or harasser privately for a few reasons, including that you do not want to give them another route to harass you through or any more personal information about yourself than they may already have. For instance, if you email them privately, they may gain access to your IP address, which can give them an idea of where you live. If you can block them from contacting you in anyway, or having access to the areas where they are harassing you, such as your Facebook wall, block them. If you are concerned doing so isn't nice, rethink that. Allowing someone access to do you harm isn't being nice to either of you: it's not being nice to yourself and enabling that person's harmful behaviors, which isn't nice for anyone. Denying people the ability to harass you isn't mean. There's nothing cruel or mean about taking these kinds of gentle, basic actions to stay safe.
- Save whatever records you have of their harassment, be that screenshots (Don't know how to do that? Click here) of forums or other webpages which contain the harassment, text copies of emails or messages or chat logs. Whatever you have that you can save, save.
- Notify the administrators or managers of the site or service about the harassment. Inform them you expect them to take action and let them know you have whatever records you have saved should they need them in order to respond.
- If you have posted any personally identifying information, or ways people can contact you away from the site, remove it if you can. Ideally, you never want to post any information like that online in the first place, but if you already have, do damage control and remove it as best you can.
- Walk away from the site while this is being addressed or resolved. We know it can be something where you really want to watch and police, but you don't want to escalate conflict. Wait to go back to a site until you hear back from the administrators with a supportive response and action to make their site safer for you and others.
- If the online harassment involves any threats to your life or person, or others close to you, involves libel or slander, or if it has moved at all offline or strongly seems like it may -- for instance, if you have gotten phone calls or letters to your home -- contact your local law enforcement office. If you feel unable to do that, ask someone for help, like a parent, mentor, sibling or friend. In the United States, you can also file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center.
- If a site's managers or administrators DO resolve the conflict, figure out for yourself if you are satisfied enough with their response for the site to feel and be safe enough for you to resume use. If they do NOT, our very best advice is to stop using that website or service. You probably don't want to support an enterprise that doesn't care about your safety and well-being, regardless, but you also need to know that if and when a site makes clear -- including by not responding to these issues at all -- that they will not work to keep their site safe for users that you can probably expect harassment to continue there.
Ultimately, these are your choices, but in the interest of your well-being, even if you otherwise really have liked or valued a space, we tend to think it's not likely worth being harassed over. The internet is chock-full of many websites of any given topic or type, so when one's a bad apple, chances are good you can find another which is similar and also safer for you. Unless your job is at a website, or you have to use a given site for your job, your time online is probably mostly or even only leisure time. Leisure time shouldn't be stressful, it should help you dump some stress. If and when a site becomes stressful, we say your best move is to do yourself a solid and move on.