Being online should not come with worry
Nina Jankowicz, vice president at CIR
Centre for Information Resilience (CIR) is releasing more internal policies relating to the unique challenges online researchers face. Today, we are sharing our “Online Abuse Policy, Support Mechanisms, and Guidance”, a document that sets out how CIR supports staff facing online abuse as a result of their work.
In the world of open-source investigations and counter-disinformation research, being online is inextricable from the work itself. It is not only where our work happens — it is the primary method through which we communicate about it.
Unfortunately, using social media comes with risks, including harassment, direct threats or doxxing (the release of private information such as an individual’s address and phone number). The potential to be harmed online can cause people to self-censor; they may decide to pursue less public professions or not speak out about issues that are important to them, for fear of the consequences for themselves or their loved ones. These fears affect not only disinformation researchers but anyone whose career benefits as a result of their public engagement online.
Online abuse limits our freedom of expression and can be isolating; while most organisations have policies on how their employees can represent them online—that is, what they can post—many do not have strategies to support employees if they are targeted by online harms that come about as a result of their work in the public sphere.
At CIR, we want everyone in our organisation to feel empowered and supported when using social media – whether that’s in a personal or professional capacity. We also recognise the increased risk our colleagues face as a result of their work countering disinformation. In addition to our policy on vicarious trauma, we recently launched a policy detailing how CIR will support colleagues who are subject to online harms. We’re sharing that policy today as a resource for other civil society organisations, media outlets, private sector companies, and even government departments to support them in their efforts to assess the risks their employees and consultants face when representing their employer online.
CIR has installed multiple mechanisms, designed to support colleagues facing online harms. The policy includes the following available responses:
The provision of twice-yearly voluntary digital safety refresher courses;
Assistance with removing private information from the internet;
If experiencing severe or pervasive harassment, CIR will assign someone to take over the team member’s social media accounts in order to triage and log abuse;
If doxxed, CIR will provide safe lodging for team members and their immediate family for up to two weeks;
CIR will support/assist team members in their collaboration with local law enforcement;
Management will assist team members to raise complaints with social media platforms regarding online behaviour that violates their terms of service;
CIR will assist team members with threat monitoring/public crisis response for up to an initial period of 30 days;
Employees can also seek personal legal support through CIR’s Employee Assistance Program.
The result, we hope, is that our colleagues will feel empowered—not afraid—to use social media, and we want them to do so with the knowledge that CIR will do its utmost to support both their psychological and physical safety, should they encounter online harms.
This policy is part of a suite of policies, including policies on social media usage and vicarious trauma, that CIR is releasing publicly.
Published on 21/12/2023