How to handle social media threats like ones made toward Michigan punter Blake O'Neill

— -- University of Michigan punter Blake O'Neill has had plenty of support, not just abuse, since his fumbled snap allowed archrival Michigan State to return the ball for a last-second touchdown that beat the Wolverines on the last play of their showdown Saturday. But neither O'Neill nor anyone else who attracts the sort of death threats and abusive comments (including suggestions to commit suicide) has to just sit still and take it.

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, who met briefly with reporters Monday after a visit to the White House to support a fitness initiative championed by First Lady Michelle Obama, said he was inclined to view the online abuse hurled at O'Neill as the work of a loud minority of people and not the view of the majority.

"I think they were [a] very small percentage of people that were probably drinking too much," Harbaugh said, adding that he'd taken the time to personally look through many of the remarks directed at O'Neill. "The support that we have, that our players have, is powerful, it's enduring. We have felt it this entire season and continue to do so."

But if O'Neill or anyone else threatened on social media feels differently, they do have alternatives.

Plenty of college and pro teams proactively consult with social media firms that educate athletes on how to deal with cyberbullying and Internet hate talk. Such firms also strategize with school or team staff on policymaking and issues such as when to contact the authorities if it starts to feel things have gotten out of hand.

"I'd rather go overboard, so to speak, rather than writing off such threats to some idiot who is just angry," said Kevin DeShazo, the founder of Fieldhouse Media, a firm that has helped over 80 colleges with social media. "We tell schools to go to the authorities. Another thing we tell schools and the athletes is don't let a person go through this alone."

DeShazo says when he used an analytic tool called Sentiment140 on Monday to check the messages O'Neill received via Twitter, the result was 83 percent of the posts the punter received were deemed positive. But that doesn't necessarily mean the 17 percent negative remarks should be dismissed just because they're in the minority.

"We know, for example, that research shows cyberbullying can lead to things such as depression, chemical dependency, even suicidal thoughts, especially if it continues over time," DeShazo said. "So another thing we counsel people to do in these situations is step in and help. That doesn't always mean stepping in and arguing with these idiots on Twitter. Help could be a teammate who tweets support to you, or someone just saying, 'Let's go see a movie. Let's get something to eat.' But again, don't let the athlete deal with this alone. ... Most of the time people who are targeted are already depressed or upset. Maybe they're already dealing with shame or the thought that they really did do something wrong."

Spokesmen for both Facebook and Twitter said via email that there are many concrete steps that people can take if they're subject to constant harassment or threats besides abandoning their social media platform accounts completely.

Nu Wexler, a spokesman for Twitter's public policy communications department explained that detailed instructions for how users can unfollow, filter, mute, block and report other accounts can be found here.

Wexler said Twitter doesn't comment on how it treats individual accounts "as a matter of company policy." But he added that anyone who feels threatened enough to need protection has another option: "They can file an abuse report, and exercise the option to request an emailed copy of the report so they can take it to law enforcement. Our law enforcement guidelines explain what information we have, and how authorities can request it."

Facebook spokesman Andrew Souvall said Facebook's Community Standards policy explains what users can and cannot do on the site. Souvall pinpointed two sections of the guidelines that might be particularly helpful:

The "Helping to Keep you Safe" area reads: "We remove content, disable accounts, and work with law enforcement when we believe there is a genuine risk of physical harm or direct threats to public safety."

Under "Direct Threats," the guidelines state: "We carefully review reports of threatening language to identify serious threats of harm to public and personal safety. We remove credible threats of physical harm to individuals. We also remove specific threats of theft, vandalism, or other financial harm.

"We may consider things like a person's physical location or public visibility in determining whether a threat is credible. We may assume credibility of any threats to people living in violent and unstable regions."

The ending of the Michigan-MSU game and subsequent abuse directed at O'Neill is hardly a new phenomenon in sports, of course.

Earlier this season, Texas kicker Nick Rose received nasty Internet remarks after missing an extra point that decided a loss to Cal, and Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said center Ryan Norton received death threats on social media last season after a botched snap near the end zone contributed to a 23-17 loss to No. 1 Florida State. There have been a legion of basketball players who missed free throws over the years and were lambasted for it and baseball players who struck out in a big spot or served up a home run who felt haunted for years, too.

But trolls do have reasons to beware.

You can be found if someone wants to find you badly enough.

"They don't really get that on the Internet nothing is totally private" DeShazo said. "Nothing disappears. Nothing is anonymous."

Law enforcement or IT pros can track discreet information pertaining to computers or email accounts that will lead authorities right to your doorstep, if they're inclined to devote the time and effort. When the Houston Astros alerted the FBI that their computers had been hacked last year, investigators traced it back to a few St. Louis Cardinals employees who were sharing a rented home near the team's spring training site in Florida.

Sometimes finding abusers isn't even that hard for laymen.

Former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, now an ESPN analyst, heard a lot of hurrahs when he tracked down and exposed some abusive online users who had harassed his daughter -- in part by using easily available info they had posted online.

The same thing happened in 2012 when an angry New York Jets fan repeatedly threatened Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez for the five turnovers he committed in a game. The Newark Star-Ledger swiftly found the man, and he even consented to an interview for this story in which he didn't express total remorse. The Jets turned the matter over to law enforcement officials, according to a source, who then acted on the information to protect Sanchez.

DeShazo isn't alone in feeling teams and athletes can't be too careful.

Five years ago, Kyle Brotzman missed two field goals -- one at the end of regulation, the other in overtime -- in Boise State's 34-31 loss to Nevada in November 2010 that spoiled the Broncos' perfect season and perhaps their shot at the national title.

After the game, Brotzman received numerous death threats and hate mail. Then a backlash started against the backlash. More than 45,000 people expressed support for Brotzman on a Facebook community page. (As of midday Tuesday, over 18,000 people had liked a Facebook page called We Support Wolverine Blake O'Neill.)

But for Brotzman, now 29 and playing minor league football, the support didn't completely numb the pain.

"I went through hell for at least a couple years," Brotzman, told CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd on Monday. 

In particular, Brotzman couldn't dismiss the violent threats he absorbed.

"There should be consequences for those people," Brotzman told Dodd. "They're really screwing with [O'Neill's] life, honestly. Hopefully, he's around people who are encouraging him. It's a dark, dark low place when all these people are saying all these hurtful things."

"I think something needs to change with that whole aspect of it. I think the police should be involved."

O'Neill, who is a former Australian rules football player from Melbourne, is a graduate student playing his first season at Michigan. He'd actually been having a good day until his fumble on the final play, including an 80-yard punt in the first half that pinned Michigan State back near its goal line.

As of midday Tuesday, O'Neill's Twitter and Facebook accounts had not been taken down. But between Monday and Tuesday, he did change his Facebook profile to no longer identify himself as a Michigan player, and his privacy settings had been amended to make visitors send a friend request before they can comment on his page or view his information.

One of O'Neill's former Aussie coaches has predicted O'Neill would get through this ordeal. But something O'Neill said during a postgame interview after his debut at Michigan Stadium a few weeks ago seems particularly accurate now.

"It's remarkable to see how big an effect football has on the lives of people here," he said.