If an employee believes they may be a target for doxing, offer to pay for them to have their online information scrubbed via an online service like DeleteMe or Privacy Duck.
Comment Moderation Policy: For digital news sources and content-hosting platforms that incorporate comments, there should be clear community guidelines and moderation policies in place. Community guidelines set the tenor of a conversation and lay out clear standards about what behaviors will and will not be tolerated. If a commenter is booted from a conversation thread or finds their posted comment removed, it should be evident from the community standards why this has occurred. Evidence shows that posting moderation policies at the top of a comment thread can even prevent certain kinds of online harassment from happening and also increase audience engagement.
One common error many publications make is asking or requiring writers to moderate their own comment threads. While, in theory, this seems like an efficient use of resources, in practice it exposes writers to threats of violence, noxious hate speech, and demoralizing ad hominem attacks—especially when the subject matter of the published article is particularly controversial or when the writer belongs to a certain demographic. Platforms that wish to make comment threads a part of audience experience should consider creating a schedule wherein coworkers moderate each other’s comment threads rather than their own so that writers who are more likely to be subjected to online harassment are spared the ordeal of witnessing direct threats and hate speech made against them. Well-resourced publications might even consider investing in personnel for whom moderation is a full-time job. (Bear in mind, this can be an ugly and exhausting career, and additional wellness resources may be required to support this particular kind of employee.)
Another option some publications have started to pursue is moderation AI. The New York Times now incorporates a machine-learning technology called Moderator into its moderation practices, while The Coral Project’s moderation technology, Talk, aims to reshape moderation practices to create safer and more productive online conversations. Talk is already in use by a number of national newsrooms, including The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, and several regional newsrooms as well.
Headline-Writing Policy: All publications rely on snappy headlines to generate audience interest and drive readers to their websites—indeed for most publications, click-worthy headlines are the company’s bread and butter. But when headlines are written to be deliberately inflammatory or divisive, it’s the writer of the article—not the editor who selected the headline—who becomes the target of vicious online harassment. A clear headline-writing policy that invites the input of a writer and takes into consideration the writer’s history with online harassment can go a long way toward preventing harmful exposure.
Freelancer/Contractor Policy: This is a tricky one and really comes down to one question: What do institutions owe their non-staff writers? Freelancers contribute important material, give to the lifeblood of the company, and can become loyal, dependable members of the institutions they serve. As many business models evolve away from teams of staff writers toward cheaper and more nimble contract work, freelancers are increasingly relied upon to generate large loads of material without institutional benefits.
If a freelance writer is subject to online harassment as a result of something they’ve written for your institution, they arguably deserve the same treatment and security procedures that a staff writer would receive. But how much support they should be offered, and for how long, is something your institution will need to decide for itself. In many ways, material published online is evergreen: It might surface in an online Google search years later, subjecting a writer to online harassment all over again. Does an employer owe support to its contractors and freelancers for only three months after a contract ends? Six months? Three years? Should your company file police reports on behalf of a targeted writer if that writer is subjected to death threats in connection to their work? Should your institution be responsible for securing safe housing for a targeted writer? What is a targeted contract writer owed, and what is your institution capable of offering them, either formally or informally?
These are questions only your institution can answer, but they are absolutely worth asking. Having some kind of contract-worker policy in place, even an informal one, can help you evaluate what you owe a freelancer who is turning to you for support during episodes of online harassment. Here are a few general guidelines to follow:
Set up a method for evaluating the severity of a contractor’s online harassment episode, and whether or not it merits institutional intervention.
Set out a reasonable period of time your internal online harassment policies should apply to freelance workers after their contracts expire.
Wellness Policy: Online harassment can take an immense toll on one’s wellness and mental health, impacting an employee’s professional productivity and even their decision to write on certain topics and events. If your institution has the resources, consider implementing the following recommendations, which can help to improve mental wellness for employees targeted by online harassment:
Pay for a company-wide subscription to an app like Talkspace™so your employees have access to mental health professionals during online harassment.
Pay for a company-wide subscription to an app like Headspace™or Sanvello™ so your employees can engage in anxiety-reducing practices and monitor their mental states during moments of harassment-related depression and anxiety.
Designate an empty office as a safe place for employees to go when they’re overwhelmed by online harassment and need a break.