In the past two years, PEN America has documented dozens of incidents in which faculty, administrators, and students have been harshly criticized for their intellectual positions or personal opinions. Some professors have experienced public shaming, harassment, official reprisals, or all three. Whether you’re experiencing or witnessing online abuse, the resources below offer guidance on how to defend yourself and others—and point to funding for mental health and legal support.

Digital Safety & Online Abuse Defense Resources

It’s easy to forget how much of our private life might be visible online. Bolstering your digital security and tightening your privacy settings empowers you to be in control of what you’re sharing with the world.

Password managers are one of the most effective ways to protect yourself from harassers online. They generate long secure passwords, store them safely for you, and fill them in for you automatically when you need to log into your accounts. It is important that the password manager you use is encrypted. Some options:

Data scrubbers are services that comb the web and remove your private information, such as home addresses, from data brokers, which can help protect you from doxing, hacking, and impersonation. Some options: 

For guidance on how to manually remove your information from data broker sites for free, see Consumer Reports’ Permission Slip tool, Yael Grauer’s Big Ass Data Broker Opt Out List, and Optery’s Opt-Out Guides.

Two-factor authentication is an added layer of security that requires you to retrieve a code or confirm access from a secondary device before logging into your account. Just remember to save your back-up codes somewhere safe so you don’t get locked out of your account! Some options:

Legal Resources

Leveraging the law to mitigate online abuse can be an uphill battle, but there are specific forms of harassment—such as cyberstalking, non-consensual intimate imagery, and true threats—that can be addressed through the judicial system. A lawyer can help determine whether there are legal remedies available.

  • The American Association of University Professors’ Legal Program and Legal Defense Fund

  • LawHelp’s Legal Help Guides including how to access low-cost legal help and assistance with court fees

  • Lambda Legal’s Help Desk for general information and resources relating to discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, and HIV status.

  • Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression’s (FIRE) Faculty Legal Defense Fund Program, which connects public university faculty members to legal counsel—and assists with fees. 
    • FLDF also offers a 24-hour hotline (254-500-3533)
  • Cyber Civil Rights Initiative compiled a list of attorneys across the country who help assist victims of cyber harassment on a low or pro bono basis.
    • CCRI also offers a Safety Center for victims of intimate image abuse online.
  • American Bar Association’s Free Legal Answers initiative offers virtual legal advice to income-eligible individuals. 

  • Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law’s Center to Stop Hate

Mental Health Resources

Online abuse is isolating—it can be traumatic, disempowering, and exhausting. Receiving help from a professional counselor or therapist can be helpful for those with the bandwidth, resources, and healthcare access to do so. We recognize that this might not be possible for everyone. Whatever your situation, there are a number of options—including free online apps and sliding-scale therapeutic resources—available to help you navigate online abuse.

For further guidance, please visit:  

More Resources