Know your rights

Guidelines on dealing with online harassment

As a lawyer to The Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers (FUURT), I have been frequently asked about how to deal with situations where 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.

It is also sometimes difficult to draw a line where for example heated discussion ends and harassment begins. It seems to me that the more controversial research topics also attract the most harassment. Sometimes people may just be very interested in knowing about the research and get over excited, or they may disagree or even be offended by it. Lately, some of the most controversial topics have been those involved immigration, sex- and equality matters and the paranormal.

It is important to realize what is harassment and when for example a law has been broken. It is also good to have a guideline to follow when suspecting harassment. FUURT is preparing some guidelines for researchers and teachers to help their members cope with situations where they are faced with harassment.

Some forms of online harassment

Trolling means to post inflammatory or inappropriate messages or comments (in the internet, especially a message board) for the purpose of upsetting others and provoking a response. Trolling is not always malevolent.

Hate speech is speech which attacks a person or group on the basis of attributes such as race, religion, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, disability, or gender.

Internet bullying or harassment can be identified by repeated behavior and an intent to harm. Harmful bullying behavior can include posting rumors about a person, threats, sexual remarks, disclose victims' personal information, or pejorative labels (i.e., hate speech).

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/ contacting disturbing

2) Remember you are not obligated to continue a conversation that has turned into inappropriate or harassing. Even if it is work-related.

3) Save all messages or texts or phone calls that are inappropriate, take screenshots and record phone calls if you notice they start becoming harassing.

4) If the harassment is work-related in any way, it is important to make your employer aware. The employer is responsible for their employees’ work safety, both physical and psychological. Contact your supervisor and the health and safety representative of the employer

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

6) Contact the local health and safety representative for the employees or a shop steward.

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

text Mia Weckman
lawyer, the Finnish union of university researchers and teachers

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