The Museums Association’s recent research Sticks and Stones: Bullying in Museums demonstrates that bullying in the sector is a real and significant issue.
While instances of cyberbullying are not described frequently in relation to internal workplace bullying, the rise of social media has blurred the lines of where bullying can happen as it moves beyond the walls of an institution.
This guidance has been developed to help you to navigate the landscape of cyberbullying and digital harassment.
A person that engages in cyberbullying is often referred to as a troll, however, to reflect the seriousness of the impact and in line with good practice, we should refer to them as perpetrators.
Cyberbullying is serious and significant, where a perpetrator knowingly and maliciously uses digital technology to harass a target. Behind every target is a person.
Cyberbullying typically takes place by sending messages or replying to content in an intimidating or threatening way. It can include spreading rumours and releasing personal information and images.
Collective and co-ordinated cyberbullying has become increasingly common, whereby a group of perpetrators identify a target and aim to intimidate and silence through quoting or sharing content more widely.
In a sector where our professional work and values often mirror our own sense of identity, there can be a blurring of lines between what we think and share as individuals and what we might think or share from an institution’s perspective, whether as an employee or a freelancer.
The Museums Association’s Code of Ethics for Museums is clear in relation to this challenge. The Public Engagement and Public Benefit principle in the Code of Ethics supports institutions to share views and content freely without editorial interference. Under the third principle, Individual and Institutional Integrity, point 3.5 states:
- Make clear when communicating personally or on behalf of another organisation that views expressed do not necessarily represent those of the museum in which you work.
This addresses this challenge by being authentic and at the same time being an ‘organisational citizen’, whereby you can have different personal and professional views to your employer or client.
Within this context, it is important to review your institution’s social media policy, as there may be additional stipulations about acceptable social media activity. Understanding the institution’s social media policy is important as it outlines the extent to which they will support you in a cyberbullying situation.
If you have been active on social media on behalf of an institution, as part of a job, contract or project-related responsibility, then they have a duty of care under the Health and Safety at Work Act to support your physical and psychological wellbeing. This duty of care is extended to cyberbullying and digital harassment.
If you become a target of cyberbullying as a function of your own personal/professional tweeting activity, then the institution has less of a duty of care as an employer or a client.
How to respond
The nature of the cyberbullying will influence how you respond, for example by taking action yourself or escalating to law enforcement.
If you find yourself being digitally harassed or cyberbullied, you may want to consider the following:
- Take screenshots and take relevant notes for evidence – on occasion the perpetrators might delete content (or even their entire account) after the intimidation is done
- Report the incident internally to your line manager, your project manager (if a freelancer) and/or your HR department where applicable
- Report the incident to the relevant platform or social media network – each have clear terms of service and specific procedures to address digital harassment and cyberbullying, although these may take some time
Depending on the size of the institution and the scale and nature of the cyberbullying an institutional response may be required (guidance for institutions will be covered in future reports).
If this is not the case, you may wish to take some immediate action, for example locking your account, deactivating your account or turning off notifications. It can also be helpful to use block, mute and unfollow actions to minimise further engagement with perpetrators.
Depending on the reason for the cyberbullying or ‘cyber pile-on’, you may wish to engage with the perpetrators, but this should be done carefully. Often the best response is no response.
You may find that friends and colleagues want to provide additional support and solidarity – the risk with this is that content can get spread more widely and support can have the opposite effect.
Cyberbullying on social media often doesn’t ever truly go away – comments and posts can be resurrected months and years after the original incident, therefore do not be surprised if this happens.
The impacts and risks of cyberbullying vary. In incidents of significant threat or ‘doxing’, when your personal information is shared widely or leaked, escalation to law enforcement is the only safe and reasonable action.
If you find yourself being digitally harassed or cyberbullied, seeking support from your institution, trade union, colleagues, peers, friends or other professional bodies or networks is an important first step to take.