Dealing with online harassment as academics: A few suggestions

November 20, 2023
Dyuti Jha

Dyuti Jha

Researching controversial topics and publishing controversial results is a crucial role of science, but researchers often face censorship and harassment for questioning and challenging dominant belief systems. As academics studying online communication, we have been noticing an increasing number of academics facing social media harassment and censorship attempts. Academics use social networking sites for several purposes such as to promote their work, increasing public engagement on their research and networking with other academics. This makes them prone to being on the receiving end of hostile communication from peers, students and the public. While the anonymity and ephemerality afforded by many social media platforms have several beneficial uses, they can also increase the amount of hostile online communication, such as trolling, doxing, dogpiling and harassment.

In both the online and offline spheres, research shows that women as well as racial, sexual and gender minorities are much more likely to be the targets of online hostility (Oksanen et al., 2022). Harassment impacts scholars not only in their professional pursuits but can significantly impact their lives outside of academia. Facing a barrage of threats or circulation of private information such as their address, photographs of their family members, etc. can result in stress, fear of safety and restricted mobility for their families and themselves (Gosse et al., 2021) . Among academics, there is evidence that harassment is effective, as researchers often engage in self-censorship after being targeted online (Kempner, 2008). For example, while presenting research on the political activism in the Anti-CAA/NRC protests at a national conference in the USA, a member of a research team of women and queer people requested the attendees to not share photos or information about this paper on social media for fear of being targeted online.

Jeremy Foote

Jeremy Foote

There are a few steps you can take to tackle the impact of online harassment: 

  • First, you can be responsible and respectful in the way you conduct yourselves and present your research in public.
  • If preventive measures do not work and you find yourself being abused or harassed, there are several proactive steps you can take such as:
    1. Filing a police report.
    2. Blocking, reporting and muting harassers on social media platforms.
    3. Enlisting allies to practice counter-speech.
    4. Focusing on self-care.

Academic institutions can do more to provide support mechanisms that protect academic freedom in a practical manner. A few ways to do that are listed below:

  • Providing resources and guidelines for their faculty members to refer to if or when they face online harassment.
  • Employing experts in both legal and psychological services to provide the affected individuals support during harassment situations.
  • Organizing workshops for information dissemination on institutional resources to protect academics from online harassment.


Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) –GlobalStudies Blog. (n.d.). Retrieved August 15, 2023, from

Defining “Online Abuse”: A Glossary of Terms. (2018, April 11). Online Harassment Field Manual.

Gosse, C., Veletsianos, G., Hodson, J., Houlden, S., Dousay, T. A., Lowenthal, P. R., & Hall, N. (2021). The hidden costs of connectivity: Nature and effects of scholars’ online harassment. Learning, Media and Technology, 46(3), 264–280

Kempner, J. (2008). The Chilling Effect: How Do Researchers React to Controversy? PLOS Medicine, 5(11), e222.

Oksanen, A., Celuch, M., Latikka, R., Oksa, R., & Savela, N. (2022). Hate and harassment in academia: The rising concern of the online environment. Higher Education, 84(3), 541–567.

You’re Not Powerless in the Face of Online Harassment. (n.d.). Retrieved August 15, 2023, from


Dyuti Jha: Dyuti Jha is a second-year Ph.D. student in organizational communication and media, technology, and society, at the Brian Lamb School of Communication, Purdue University. Her research interests are online hostile communications and their impact, online communities and computational methods.

Jeremy Foote: Jeremy Foote is an assistant professor in the Brian Lamb School of Communication. Among other things, he studies how people behave in online communities.


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