Hate and harassment in academia: the rising concern of the online environment

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Abstract

Hostile online communication is a global concern. Academic research and teaching staff are among those professionals who routinely give public comments and are thus vulnerable to online attacks. This social psychological and criminological study investigated online harassment victimization among university researchers and teachers. Survey participants (N = 2,492) were university research and teaching staff members from five major universities in Finland. Victimization was assessed with a 20-item inventory. The study included a wide range of both background and general measures on well-being at work. Participants also took part in an online experiment involving a death threat targeting a colleague. Results showed that 30% of the participants reported being victims of online harassment during the prior 6 months. Victims were more often senior staff members, minority group members, and from the social sciences and humanities. Those active in traditional or social media were much more likely to be targeted. Victims reported higher psychological distress, lower generalized trust, and lower perceived social support at work than non-victims. Individuals who were targeted by a colleague from their work community reported higher post-traumatic stress disorder scores and a higher impact of perceived online harassment on their work compared to other victims. In the experimental part of the study, participants reported more anxiety when a close colleague received a death threat. Participants also recommended more countermeasures to a close colleague than to an unknown person from the same research field. Results indicate that online harassment compromises well-being at work in academia. There is an urgent need to find ways of preventing online harassment, both in workplaces and in society at large.

Original languageEnglish
JournalHigher Education
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - Nov 2021
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Keywords

  • Academia
  • Cyberbullying
  • Cyberharassment
  • Cyberhate
  • Internet
  • Media
  • Occupational well-being
  • Online environment
  • Online harassment
  • Social media

Publication forum classification

  • Publication forum level 3

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education

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