Know Your Rights: Guidelines for dealing with online harassment

As Director of Advocacy with the Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers (FUURT), I have frequently been asked how to deal with situations in which a researcher or a teacher is harassed due to their work. There are many different forms of harassment, of course, but one of the most difficult ones to deal with is that which happens online. I discussed this topic a couple of years ago, but I think it’s time to bring it up again.

It is sometimes difficult to draw a line where heated discussion ends and harassment begins. It seems to me that the more controversial research topics attract the most harassment. Sometimes people may just be interested in learning about the research and get a bit overexcited, or they may disagree or even be offended by it. Sometimes, however, lines are crossed and a heated discussion becomes harassment. Lately, some of the most controversial topics regarding research involve issues such as immigration, sex- and equality matters and the paranormal.

It is important to realize what is harassment and when a law has been broken. It is also good to have guidelines to follow if you suspect harassment. FUURT has thus prepared guidelines for researchers and teachers to help members cope with situations in which they face harassment.

Criminal offences related to online harassment

Harassing communications: A person who, with intent to disturb, repeatedly sends messages or calls another so that the act is conducive to causing said other person considerable disturbance or harm.

Dissemination of information violating personal privacy: A person who unlawfully through the use of the mass media, or otherwise by making available to many persons disseminates information, an insinuation or an image of the private life of another person, so that the act is conducive to causing that person damage or suffering, or subjecting that person to contempt.

Defamation: A person who spreads false information or a false insinuation of another person so that the act is conducive to causing damage or suffering to that person, or subjecting that person to contempt, or disparages another in a manner other than referred to in paragraph.

What to do when you face harassment

1) Make the other person aware you find the messaging/ contact disturbing.

2) Remember, you are not obligated to continue a conversation that has become inappropriate or harassing, even if work-related.

3) Save all inappropriate messages and texts and take screenshots and record phone calls if they become harassing.

4) If the harassment is work-related in any way, make your employer aware. The employer is responsible for employees’ work safety, both physical and psychological.

5) You may always contact your occupational health services. Sometimes it is a good idea to talk to somebody.

6) Contact your supervisor and health and safety representative.

7) Contact the police if the harassment is serious or continuous. If someone threatens you or somebody else, it is always a police matter.

Text by Mia Weckman

Director of Advocacy, The Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers

This article was first published in Acatiimi 4/2017.

Acatiimi 3/2021