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Mitigating risk online

Social media and other interactive spaces on the internet have profoundly changed the way we communicate, share opinions and receive information. While these channels present real opportunities, they also come with some risk. For example, you might come across harmful behaviour, you might make an ill-judged post that risks your reputation, your research might be misinterpreted or used it ways that you didn't intend, or you might run up against issues around confidentiality or copyright.

But avoiding social media altogether probably isn't the answer (and can even carry its own reputational risks). Use the advice on this page to strike a balance between the pros and cons of online activity, and learn how to deal with any issues that arise. 

Work out your risk appetite

Consider weighing up the risks and benefits of your digital footprint. (opens in a new window)This article from Fast Track Impact will help you analyse your online presence and find a level of activity that you're comfortable with.

Deal with toxic behaviour

Unfortunately, the openness and anonymity of online spaces can enable highly problematic conduct, including abuse, targeted campaigns of aggression, trolling and doxxing (harassment through finding and posting a user's personal information), which is very distressing for the target. Safety, security and wellbeing come first, so if you experience any abuse or hate speech online:

  1. Remove yourself from the situation and do not engage
  2. Immediately block and report the perpetrator(s)
  3. Delete abusive or inappropriate comments
  4. Inform your line manager in the university or your Head of School
  5. Contact the police if necessary

Remember, don’t feed the trolls! Their goal is your reaction, so it's best not to respond.

Create positive experiences

That said, it's fine to respond to negative comments on your posts, videos or online articles. But keep the following in mind:

  • Engage in a positive way, keeping your tone professional and courteous
  • Offer more information, such as links to available journal articles with plain-English summaries
  • Answer questions
  • Show empathy

Often this type of engagement can turn an initially negative interaction into a positive one. However, stop responding if the exchange degrades into an unproductive conversation.

Whether on a social media platform or the comments section of a website, don’t find yourself defending or stressing a position you didn’t intend to focus on to begin with. Furthermore, always remember snippets of what you say can be captured and copied out of context, repeated and shared.

Tip: Turning all comments off is an option of last resort. If you're nervous about it, use the 'approve comments' function or equivalent on each platform.

—Jamie Gallagher, social media expert

Fix your mistakes

What if you publish an unfortunate post or comment yourself?

  • Don't delay: unambiguously acknowledge the mistake
  • Take a screenshot of your original post or comment and refer to it with a comment to address the concerns raised about it, then delete the original
  • Apologise for any harm caused, clarify what you meant, but be very clear that you recognise the error of judgement in how you expressed it the first time
  • Say how you’re going to learn from the mistake and improve

In general, think about your presence online and how language and perceptions have changed over time.

Be aware of UCD policy

Some groups are disproportionately affected by online negativity. Be aware of the wide range of experiences that people have online. And think about underrepresented voices and perspectives – is your work and your work environment inclusive in practice and communication? If not, try to correct that. Visit UCD Equality, Diversity and Inclusion group's Dignity and Respect resources to learn more about the university's policies, tools and support contacts.

Familiarise yourself with UCD's Acceptable Use Policy, including the section on Unacceptable Online Behaviour which outlines specific examples of unacceptable conduct, such as engaging in "any form of online bullying, harassment or other online behaviour, which is illegal or intentionally offends staff, students, other users or brings the reputation of the University into disrepute."

Consider formal training

If you would like to access or arrange formal training in the use of social media, there are many experts who specialise in communication and engagement in the Higher Education sector. Look out for social media training with UCD Library here.  

Get in touch

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