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.
- PEN America, IWMF, and ONA’s Digital Safety Snacks: step-by-step videos to help you defend yourself against doxing, hacking, and other abusive tactics
- PEN America’s Field Manual against Online Harassment, including more info on how to prepare, respond, and practice self-care
- PEN America’s Campus Free Speech Guide, including this tipsheet for faculty facing online harassment and threats
- Consumer Reports’ Security Planner
- The New York Times’ Digital Security Education Hub and Security & Privacy Checklists
- Freedom of the Press Foundation’s Phishing prevention and email hygiene and Your smartphone and you: A handbook to modern mobile maintenance
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:
- Kanary (see their pricing plans here)
- Optery (offers a range of plans, from a free self-service plan to tiered pricing)
- DeleteMe (see their pricing plans here)
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:
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.
- PEN America’s Guide to Seeking Legal Support (including how to document online harassment, legal basics, and what to consider when involving law enforcement or pursuing a restraining order)
- The following universities have developed guidance for faculty members facing online abuse. The below tip sheets include information on how to document abuse, as well as to which departments faculty should escalate threats of abuse.
- 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.
- PEN America’s Guide to Practicing Self-Care (including a list of apps and sites offering free mental health support) Read Mozilla’s Privacy Guide for Mental Health Apps here.
- American Psychological Association’s Psychologist Locator
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America’s List of low-cost treatment options
- National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network
- Black Emotional and Mental Health Collection’s Black Virtual Therapist Network
- See also the Crisis Text Line
For further guidance, please visit: