Dealing with online harassment

Harassment online, eg in social media, is an issue that many academic staff encounter at some point in their career. It is often described as 'trolling' or 'cyberbullying'. The guidance below will help you decide how to act if you, or one of your colleagues or students, is affected by this.

For general guidance on the use of social media in the University, please see:

What is it?

What is online harassment?

Online harassment or 'cyberbullying' can be defined as:

  • Uninvited, intimidating, offensive comments or replies, photos or other content which is used to personally attack, intimidate, threaten or upset you

Trolling can be defined as:

  • Posting inflammatory or provocative comments on social media with the intention of starting arguments, or causing unease

Dealing with harassment

How can you deal with online harassment

If you're being harassed online, or you know someone who is, you should follow the guidance below in tackling the situation. Avoid responding online.

'Don't feed the trolls'

It may be difficult, but it's always best to avoid getting into discussions online with the person who is posting abuse. Unfortunately, it's unlikely that you will be able to resolve things by responding - the person (or their persona) attacking you is often posting the messages just to get a reaction.

Reporting online harassment to the University

When a member of staff is involved

If a member of staff is harassing another member of staff online, you should report this to your Line Manager in the first instance. If your Line Manager is unavailable, you should report it to the Department's Manager or Head.

If you don't feel that you can speak to any of these people about the situation, you should report the issue to HR or the Equality and Diversity Office.

Harassment is a disciplinary matter and will be treated in line with HR policy:

When a student is involved

If a student is harassing another student or a member of staff, or posting offensive material online, you should raise this with the Head of their department or college. We advise that you deal with social media harassment issues offline and in confidence, as quickly as possible. Only those who need to know should be told what is happening, and the situation should be dealt with sensitively. Once again, University policy must be followed.

Fake profiles

You may encounter fake profiles, which are set up using someone else's personal information and photos, to pretend to be that person online. These fake accounts may be used to 'friend' or communicate with your colleagues and friends, in order to get personal information, to ridicule you, or to damage your personal reputation.

You can report fake profiles to the relevant social media provider:

General information about harassment and bullying

The University's Equality and Diversity Office provide information and advice at:

Support

Where to go for support

Any kind of bullying, whether it's online or offline, is upsetting to those who are being attacked, but there are places that can offer you support:

How you can support others

While it's tempting to offer visible support online - for example, replying to messages on behalf of others, this is not advisable as you could end up becoming a victim of the harassment too.

Reporting messages to social media platforms, on behalf of others, is encouraged and can often strengthen the case for platforms to delete the offending accounts or content.

You can also point colleagues to the Confidential Care line and the Equality and Diversity Office so that they can get the support they need.

How do social media providers help?

Some social media platforms offer the ability to delete (or hide) comments posted on your content. All platforms give you the option to report and block other users.

Facebook

To remove comments on a personal profile, hover over the right of the comment, and click on the cross which appears.

If you want to remove comments from a Page, follow Facebook's instructions:

  • How do I hide or delete a comment from a post on my Page?
    • If you hide a post, the original poster and their friends can still see and respond to it; they won't be notified that it's been hidden
    • Deleting posts removes them completely from Facebook - you can also ban users on pages from posting again

Facebook offer extensive advice including:

Instagram

Twitter

On Twitter you can't remove other people's comments but you can report tweets.

You can decide levels of access to your account - it can be Open (anyone can view and follow your account) or Protected (people have to be approved by you to follow your account, and your tweets can't be retweeted). You can also Mute or Block other people's accounts.  If you Mute an account, you won't see their comments, but they can still see your posts. If you Block an account, you can't see their posts and they can't see yours (but note that if your account is open, they will be able to see your posts if they're not logged in).

LinkedIn

Snapchat

YouTube

Good practice

Good practice

There are steps that you can take which will help to protect your accounts from being targeted.

For individual accounts

  • Remember that social media is public and what goes online has the potential to stay online even if you delete it (eg as a screenshot).
  • Some topics attract more negative attention than others - if you're getting involved in online discussions about sensitive subjects, bear this in mind.
  • Never share your passwords with anyone else and make sure that they are strong:
  • If you are teaching students, or if you're a college tutor, think carefully about who you 'friend' and what you post. Consider setting up separate profiles for Facebook, Twitter etc to keep your personal and work life separate.
    • Remember that Facebook requires each personal profile to use a real name, so consider using a different version of your name eg 'Bob Roberts' for your personal account, and 'Robert Roberts' for your work account.
  • Be aware that the default security settings on social media can change, so review your settings regularly.

For group accounts

  • If you log into department or group social media accounts on your phone, make sure you have a passcode set up on it.
  • Don't leave your computer unlocked with social media (or other sensitive accounts) logged in.
  • If more than one person needs access to an account, share the passwords using a secure password manager such as Lastpass:
  • Give clear guidelines to the staff or students who manage your social media accounts. If they leave, make sure their access is removed and passwords are changed.
  • If you use multiple accounts, make sure you're posting to the right one - eg check which avatar is displaying before you post

Other links

Other useful links

Dr Sara Perry (Archaeology) speaks about her experiences of managing negative attention on social media:

Citizens Advice Bureau provide general advice on further action about discrimination and harassment:

Get Safe Online offers general non-university specific advice about being safe on social media: