As a researcher, you should expect your work to be scrutinized by the public, policy makers and campaigners. However, some researchers working on high-profile subjects that attract controversy have also found themselves targeted with online harassment. In contrast to healthy debate about research, online harassment in academia could include abusive emails, social media harassment and ‘trolling’, or even threats to personal safety.
We want to support you in confidently communicating your work and helping your research make a positive impact. No one should be a victim of online abuse or trolling.
But if it does happen to you or someone you know, read the updated guide from the Science Media Centre for support and tips, including how to deal with social media harassment.
1. Don’t allow yourself to be silenced. Researchers being targeted often shy away from doing media work as they are concerned that this will attract more criticism. Our extensive experience in this area suggests that doing media work does not increase the chance of a researcher being targeted. In contrast, by engaging with the media you can get your messages across to the public and policy makers. This can make you less likely to be targeted rather than more.
2. Think about who you want to speak to. Before beginning any dialogue you should ask yourself whether engaging with those who have extreme views is going to have any impact – will it change their mind? The answer is almost always no. The advice from experts in this area, including the police, is to avoid engagement with these extreme critics. Instead, you should focus on those who are interested in listening to your views and would give you a fair hearing, such as the general public, news media, policy makers or a patient group. Make sure you spend time proactively communicating with these groups.
3. Social media: Instead of following critical online discussions yourself, ask someone else to keep an eye online and only alert you if they feel there is something new appearing that you need to know. If comments become abusive, report it to the social media platform provider, who often have a reporting feature.