Online toolkit helps experts protect themselves from online abuse

The Australian Science Media Centre (AusSMC) has developed an online toolkit to help experts both prepare for, and respond to, trolling and harassment online, after a survey of more than 100 scientists found that one in three reported experiencing abuse on social media. The online toolkit includes step-by-step guides to protecting yourself from online abuse and what to do if you find yourself on the receiving end of an online pile-on.

Organisation/s: Australian Science Media Centre

Funder: Springer Nature, Flinders University, The University of Sydney and CSIRO.

Media release

From: Australian Science Media Centre

Online toolkit helps experts protect themselves from online abuse

The Australian Science Media Centre (AusSMC) has developed an online toolkit to help experts both prepare for, and respond to, trolling and harassment online, after a survey of more than 100 scientists found that one in three reported experiencing abuse on social media.

The resources are available free to Supporters and Affiliates of the AusSMC on the Science Media Savvy training portal. To access the material researchers just need to enter an email address from one of AusSMC’s supporting organisations. 

“Online abuse and attacks can impact scientists’ willingness to speak to the media in the future, and if experts stop speaking to the media, all of us will be worse off, ” said Lyndal Byford, the AusSMC’s Director of News and Partnerships.

Online abuse of experts can shut down important conversations, remove key voices from the debate, and ultimately may pose a threat to the health of Australia’s democracy. Groups that are already underrepresented in the media, such as culturally and linguistically diverse experts and women in STEM, are also at increased risk of harassment and online abuse if they do appear in the news.

Harassment and online abuse can also cause real and significant harm to people’s well-being. In addition to the most recent survey, the journal Nature collaborated with the AusSMC during the height of the pandemic to ask COVID-19 experts about their experiences of online abuse.

These surveys showed that more than one in three scientists reported emotional or psychological distress. In Australia, around one in five scientists said they’d received death threats or threats of violence after speaking to the media about COVID-19.

“Helping policymakers and the public to understand scientific research – the findings as well as the process – is essential for a functional global society that can cope with looming challenges such as climate change and future pandemics,” said Dr Magdalena Skipper, Editor in Chief of Nature.

“Harassment is making that important work untenable for many researchers.”

The toolkit has been developed thanks to the support of Springer Nature, Flinders University, The University of Sydney and CSIRO.

“The AusSMC harassment resources provide an important way of supporting researchers in overcoming these profoundly upsetting challenges, ” said Dr Skipper. “We were delighted to support this important project.”

The online toolkit includes step-by-step guides to protecting yourself from online abuse and what to do if you find yourself on the receiving end of an online pile-on.

The AusSMC has also developed workshops to help prepare early to mid-career researchers, and more in-depth sessions for researchers who have experienced online abuse firsthand.

“It is critical academics contribute to public discourse and share their knowledge and expertise for the public good. But we know this duty can come with risk,” said Professor Emma Johnston, Deputy Vice Chancellor at the University of Sydney.

“The University of Sydney has taken solid steps towards protecting and supporting our staff – including a valuable partnership with AusSMC and others on resources to help scientists manage their online engagement safely and mitigate online abuse,” said Professor Johnston.

For more information about these resources or to book a workshop contact the AusSMC

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