5 Ways to Handle and Prevent Cyber-Harassment

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5 Steps to Prevent Online Harassment

If you're not a victim but would like to proactively protect yourself and your family members, I recommend following these five steps in addition to the advice above:

1. Avoid participating on forums or sites that encourage anonymous posts, like Topix.com. These sites have a history of user complaints about allowing inappropriate content to remain on their sites and not taking sufficient steps to block the person who posted it.

2. Buy the domains for your and your children's names. This could help prevent someone from making a "hate site" about you or your child. Domains are relatively cheap from sites like GoDaddy.com.

3. Use Google Alerts. This will facilitate email notifications being sent to you whenever you or your family member's name appears online.

4. Avoid using any social network or online forum as your online diary. Venting in status updates and posting stories about your personal life are easy ways for people with bad intentions to take advantage of you. It's important to realize that, just as in real life, there are some things that aren't meant to be shared with the public. If you absolutely have to share something personal with someone else online, send them a private message or an email.

5. Find and remove your personal information from information-aggregator sites like Spokeo.com. Sites like these make it easy for individuals to obtain relatively accurate information about you. Here is a step-by-step guide you can follow.

Finally, recognize that these steps, though helpful, are not entirely fool-proof and can't guarantee that you or a family member won't be harassed online. While it's important to follow these steps, it's equally important that you establish a dialogue with your children about why it's never O.K. to harass or bully someone online. The key to ending cyber-harassment and cyber-stalking starts at home, and involves each of us teaching our children how to be kind, responsible digital citizens.

Watch the story of how a Georgia man's life was destroyed by anonymous online gossip on "20/20"

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Read more about Mary Kay Hoal here.

Learn more about cyber safety on the "20/20 We Find Them" page.

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