Protect against online abuse.
Social media has become an important way for journalists to promote their work and voice opinions. This has led to increased levels of online abuse in the form of trolling.
Trolls can be real people or fake accounts run by computer bots. They often aim to shut down discussion on social media threads by leaving so many comments that it is impossible for the journalist to engage in conversation. They can also be used to intimidate or threaten a journalist, and in some cases, trolls may try to hack into a journalist’s accounts. Once a journalist has been identified as a target for trolling, then they are more likely to be trolled in the future.
Journalists covering certain political issues, or controversial topics such as the extreme right, the alt-right, race, and issues around feminism and women’s rights are likely to be a target for trolls. It is important to identify the reason for the trolling and the objectives of the trolls in order to protect yourself.
Best practice: trolling
Before an attack
- Separate out your work from your personal life on your social media accounts.
- Protect your accounts from being hacked by using a password manager to create long unique passwords. See our guide on passwords.
- Turn on two-factor verification for your accounts, which will alert you if someone is trying to get into your account. See our guide on email for more information.
- Review the privacy settings of your social media accounts and change them for any information that you do not want public.
- Review photos of you online and assess whether any of them can be used to discredit you. Trolls often misappropriate images found in the public domain and use them to tarnish a journalist’s image. These images are often perfectly normal everyday photos; for example, a journalist on holiday.
- Apply to have your accounts verified by social media companies. This will show your followers that the account is yours and not a fake account set up in your name.
- Speak with your family and friends about online abuse and walk them through steps to secure their data online. Trolls are likely to target them if they can not find information about you.
- Review your social media sites regularly for comments that could indicate the beginning of a trolling situation. Be especially vigilant just after a story has been published, especially if it is a topic that attracts the interest of trolls.
During an attack
- When trolling occurs, try not to engage with the trolls, as this can make the situation worse.
- Look at the type of trolling and try to ascertain who is behind it. Look to see if the trolls are real people or bots.
- You may want to block or mute trolls. You should report any trolls that are abusive or threatening to the social media company. Change the settings on Twitter to control the content you see on your feed. See the TrollBusters guide for more information.
- If trolling involves defamation of your character and/or your work, consider mobilising a team of supporters on social media to counteract the claim.
- You may want to consider going offline if an attack is particularly bad.
- Consider making your editor and key professional contacts aware of the situation.
- Document the attack. See the TrollBusters guide for how to do this.
A troll attack can also involve doxxing. This is when personal information on a person – for example, an address or phone number – is made public online. This information is normally taken from public databases or the journalist’s online profile, but adversaries may also hack your accounts to obtain personal data. These details are then used as a way to harass and/or intimidate a journalist, varying in threat level from sending items to the journalist’s house to threatening them over the phone.
Best practice: doxxing
Before an attack
- Review your online profile and look on sites such as search directories and the electoral roll that contain personal information about you and your family. You may be able to get this information removed, depending on the site and the law in different countries.
- Remove contact details and personal data, such as your date of birth, that is public on your social media sites and websites. Create a work-only email address for people to contact you.
- Lock down your privacy settings on your social media accounts. See our guide on social media. Consider speaking to relatives about their social media accounts and settings. Adversaries can obtain a lot of information on you through the accounts of family members and friends.
- Use a password manager to create long unique passwords for your accounts. See our guide to passwords.
- Review content in your accounts, including emails and private messages on social media, for any information that could put you at risk. Remove, if possible, anything that could harm you if made public.
During an attack
- Consider relocating if you think that you or your family’s life could be at risk. Organisations such as the Rory Peck Trust may be able to help with advice and support in this situation.
- Document the attack and create an incident log.
- Review your online profile and remove any personal details.
- Ensure that you are using a password manager and have two-factor authentication turned on for all of your accounts. See our guide on passwords.
- Let your bank, utility companies and mobile phone companies know that you have been doxxed to prevent fraudulent use of these services.
- Let your contacts know that you have been doxxed, including your family, employer and friends.
- Report threatening behaviour to the authorities, if you feel able to do so.