Online harassment: a toolkit for protecting yourself from abuse

From Nature, 30 August 2022:

The United States Marine Corps could hardly be described as ‘cowards’. Yet that’s exactly the accusation that was levelled at the force last year, when its training facility in San Diego, California, announced on Twitter that it was accepting its first cohort of women — and then immediately switched off comments on the tweets. Such announcements often attract misogynistic and abusive comments. Far from being cowardly, blocking these was smart and strategic, says Imran Ahmed, founder and chief executive of the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), a non-profit organization based in Washington DC. “Why would they open up a channel for those people opposed to their fundamental values to attack them?” he asks.

It’s a question that many scientists who work in politically or socially charged fields are now grappling with. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic has been accompanied by an unprecedented ‘infodemic’ of misinformation, disinformation and conspiracy theories concerning everything from the origins and spread of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 to infection, prevention and treatment. Alongside this has come a surge in online abuse, harassment and attacks on scientists and health experts.

This abuse has had a chilling effect on the scientists’ ability and desire to communicate their work, not just to the media and the public, but even among themselves in public-facing forums such as social media. And that’s exactly what the people behind online abuse are trying to achieve, Ahmed says. “At a very simple level, trolling is purposeful behaviour, and the purpose of it is to dissuade the target from speaking out freely.” Read more.

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