Professional Blogging: Acknowledging social media harassment

As part of the University of Edinburgh’s Academic Blogging Service, I’ve been teaching a workshop on Blogging to Build your Professional Profile.  This workshop has run once a month since September last year and I’ve also presented tailored versions of it to various groups around the University, most recently to student interns who are working with us during the summer. 

In order to make the workshop materials as open and reusable as possible, I created them on a WordPress blog running Alan Levine’s fabulous SPLOT Point theme. This proved to be a smart move because it means it’s really easy to update the materials as I’ve gained greater understanding of which topics are of interest and concern to colleagues around the University.

One topic that I’ve always felt the workshop materials didn’t adequately cover is the drawbacks of using social media.  During the workshop I point colleagues towards the University’s Managing Your Digital Foot Print resources, and in the section on Amplifying your Blog with Social Media I always make the point that social media can be a hostile environment for women, people of colour and marginalised groups in particular, however I didn’t have anything explicitly covering this in the course materials. Three things have prompted me to address this.  Firstly, a female colleague who spoke to me in private after a workshop to ask about using pseudonyms on social media as she had legitimate concerns about her privacy and safety.  Secondly, a male colleague who explained to me during a workshop that it’s not just women and people of colour who experience harassment online.  (This is true, but it does not negate the fact that there are specific gendered and racist aspects to online harassment.) And thirdly, this article by Katherine Wright, which I recently read, about how twitter can be a hostile environment that “can and does have serious repercussions for women and other marginalised groups.”  Wright goes on to say: 

“Given the severity of the gendered and racialised pushback many experience in the public eye, and twitter specifically, all training on social media or engagement should start with this. It is a responsibility of our employers and us as individuals who care about whose voice is heard.”

So in order to start addressing that responsibility the workshop page on Amplifying your blog with social media now includes the following note of caution:  

Although using social media, particularly twitter, can be a great way to amplify and disseminate your blog posts, it’s important to be aware that social media can be a hostile environment, particularly for women, people of colour and marginalised groups, who may experience targeted harassment.  You should never feel obliged to engage with social media, particularly if you feel unsafe or attacked.  Your online safety is of paramount importance.

blogs.ed.ac.uk allows you to choose whether to make your blog posts available to the general public, to EASE authenticated users only, or to keep them completely private. It’s entirely up to you.

All users should exercise caution when disseminating potentially sensitive or controversial topics. A blog post that may not be controversial in an academic context could resulting in unwanted attention or abuse if it circulates widely in the public domain.

Further advice and guidance is available as follows:

There’s a lot more that could be said on this topic, but that would be the subject of a whole other workshop. I’d be really interested to know how other institutions and organisations are addressing this aspect of e-safety, so if you’ve got links to any guidelines, research or practice, please do let me know. 

One thought on “Professional Blogging: Acknowledging social media harassment

  1. This is a really useful post, Lorna thank you. I think we have moved quite rapidly from an era where it seemed we needed to encourage people to see the value of tools like blogs and social media, to one in which their use is increasingly an expected, default way of working. In a sense while we were still getting used to this idea, we have realised we need to consider the dangers of inequalities that don’t magically disappear, and can even be amplified, in these ‘social’ online spaces.

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