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Targeted Online Harassment of Academic Staff

CAUT Policy Statement

Politically motivated groups and actors are using social media, blogs, and other websites to intimidate and harass academics working in fields where scholarly findings are perceived as threats to entrenched interests and partisan ideology. This targeted online harassment of academic staff undermines academic freedom.

Targeted online harassment includes:

  • posting, sending, or circulating abusive, vexatious, graphic, defamatory, or threatening comments or material about an academic, and/or encouraging others to do the same
  • sharing personal contact information about academic staff and encouraging others to target them
  • unauthorized publishing of classroom discussions or of private meetings between students and academic staff
  • engaging in online impersonation by circulating material that is embarrassing, inflammatory, or illegal in the name of another person

Academic staff engaged in controversial or unpopular areas of study, and those from traditionally marginalized groups, are particularly vulnerable to targeted online harassment.

College and university administrations have a positive obligation to protect academic freedom and should take decisive action to defend academic staff from targeted online harassment. Such action is part of their obligation to take all reasonable measures to maintain a healthy and safe working environment. Institutions should provide all necessary resources, including legal and IT support, in response to the targeted online harassment of academic staff. Institutions and their academic governance bodies should establish policies that prohibit the surreptitious recording or unauthorized distribution of classroom discussion or of private meetings between students and academic staff members.

Approved by the CAUT Council, November 2022.