What can researchers and research communicators do to address online abuse?

Unhappy Teenage Girl Closing Lid Of Laptop Computer After Online Abuse And Bullying On Social Media

The Internet was supposed to bring us together, and in some ways, it has, says Dr. Jaigris Hodson, a Royal Roads University associate professor in the College of Interdisciplinary Studies and Canada Research Chair in Digital Communication for the Public Interest. But increasingly, more and more of us have been exposed to its dark side.

She’s talking about online anti-social behaviour – things like trolling, cyber bullying, harassment and doxing (revealing someone’s address or other personal information online). 

If you’re like more than 30 per cent of Canadians, you’ve seen it — or worse — been the target of it yourself.

According to a new report from Toronto Metropolitan University’s Social Media Lab, which Hodson is a research coordinator, it’s dangerously on the rise, and that has a negative impact on some more than others.

“When people in marginalized populations have a job that involves communicating online, you’re more exposed and it can prevent us from being able to do our jobs well,” she says. “If we do our jobs and we are exposed to things like online harassment, that can have really important negative psychological and emotional impacts.”

Not only that, it can also give rise to misinformation – which has become increasingly problematic.

“Researchers and communicators are vanguards against misinformation,” Hodson says. “When people harass us in order to silence us because they don’t like the evidence we share, then it means that misinformation is allowed to spread.”

That’s why she, alongside colleagues from Royal Roads, Toronto Metropolitan University and the University of British Columbia are hosting a workshop, designed to help some of those most at-risk to prevent and address online abuse.

Attend the workshop

The online workshop, titled What Can Researchers and Research Communicators Do to Address Online Abuse?, happens November 23 from 10 to 11:30 a.m. PST. It’s specifically designed to support researchers and research communicators, but it’s open to everyone.

The workshop covers scenarios and strategies to protect yourself online, including how to limit the amount of data you expose online.

“None of us should have to deal with this alone,” Hodson says, adding that she and her team have met so many just doing that over the course of their research.

“I think people don’t realize that we could be a community. I think one of the broader goals for this and our work going forward is to help people recognize that they’re not alone and we really are stronger together.”

Learn more about the workshop and register now.


Top tips for dealing with online anti-social behaviour

Seek support. 

Speak with family, friends and colleagues who can provide moral support and help block and delete harmful content. Speak with your IT department if you have one. Form a community of practice.

Protect your personal information. 

Use a password manager to keep your personal online profile safe and protected. Avoid publishing anything online that has meta data that can identify personal information like your address.

Be a good colleague. 

Recognize that some colleagues are more likely to experience online anti-social behaviour than others. Make yourself available to support them.


Meet the facilitators

Anatoliy Gruzd

Anatoliy Gruzd, Canada Research Chair in Privacy Preserving Digital Technologies, Toronto Metropolitan University

Anatoliy Gruzd is a Canada Research Chair in Privacy-Preserving Digital Technologies, a professor at the Ted Rogers School of Information Technology Management and the Director of Research at the Social Media Lab at Toronto Metropolitan University. He is also a Member of the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists, and a founding co-chair of the International Conference on Social Media and Society. The broad aim of Gruzd’s various research initiatives is to understand how social media data can be used ethically to tackle a wide variety of societal problems from combating disinformation to helping educators navigate social media for teaching and learning.

Jaigris Hodson

Jaigris Hodson, Canada Research Chair in Digital Communication for the Public Interest, Royal Roads University.

Jaigris Hodson is a Canada Research Chair in Digital Communication for the Public Interest. She has published research in a wide range of academic publications and presented her work to national and international audiences. She has also published in non-academic publications such as The Evolllution and spoke at TEDX Victoria 2012. She is currently working on several SSHRC funded grant projects related to online harassment, anti social online behavior and digital misinformation. She is also a founding member of the Digital Public Interest Collective

Chris Tenove

Chris Tenove, Interim Director in the Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions, University of British Columbia

Chris Tenove is the interim director of the University of British Columbia’s Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions (CSDI), and a researcher and instructor in the School of Public Policy & Global Affairs. He has published peer-reviewed articles and book chapters on the challenges that digital media pose to democracy and human rights, focusing on topics such as electoral disinformation, social media regulation, and online harassment of politicians and health communicators. His policy reports on these topics include Trolled on the Campaign Trail: Online Incivility and Abuse in Canadian Politics (2020), Online Hate in the Pandemic (2022), and Not Just Words: How Reputational Attacks Harm Journalists and Undermine Press Freedom (2023). Prior to obtaining a PhD in Political Science, he worked in Canada and internationally as an award-winning journalist.

Victoria O’Meara

Victoria O’Meara, PhD, Postdoctoral Researcher and co-Founder of the Digital Public Interest Collective

Victoria O’Meara is a post-doctoral researcher at Royal Roads University in the College of Interdisciplinary Studies. She received her PhD in Media Studies from Western University. Her research draws from critical political economy and intersectional feminism to examine issues related to work, technology, reputation, and influence in the digital media economy.