Managing Online and Social Media Harassment

Online harassment – often taking the form of trolling, cyberbullying or doxxing – continues to be a national issue and can take many forms using a range of communications technologies. Online harassment occurs in an online setting and is generally defined as repetitive behavior that is intended to defame, threaten, harm, anger or humiliate a targeted individual or group. This webpage offers steps that members of the Brown University community can take to help prevent and respond to instances of harassment online.

Because universities are not able to influence the management of external, independent social platforms (on which much of this harassment takes place), the steps taken by individuals targeted by harassment can have the greatest impact. Brown is committed to supporting the well-being of those who may be confronting online harassment.

Social Media Trolling and Harassment

Harassment can take many forms across a range of social media platforms, including in public forums, discussion threads, private groups, and instant messaging apps and services. If you experience social media harassment, you should consider taking the following steps:

Take action

  • Temporarily disable. Consider temporarily disabling your social media profiles or switching them to private, so only those you are connected to can post or comment.
  • Ignore. A decision not to engage is its own form of action, so you can choose not to respond. The goal of social media agitators, or trolls, is to elicit a response. In many cases, trolls move on when ignored. But, if you decide that a response is necessary, make your response short, concise and fact-based.
  • Mute. If what someone is saying about you in social media is causing you distress, you can change your settings to mute them. The harassing party is not notified that you have muted them, and you can ignore their comments.
  • Block. Several social media platforms allow you to selectively prevent others from following you, seeing your posts or commenting on your content by blocking them.
  • Report. Reporting a user’s behavior to social media platforms’ policy or compliance page could result in their account being suspended or messages taken down if they violate the platform’s terms of service. Fake or impersonation accounts can also be reported to the social media company’s website. Most platforms have community standards of behavior. Be sure to take screenshots of captions and comments on social media with dates and time stamps in case the posts are deleted later.
  • Secure. Ensure two-factor authentication is set up on your social media channels and set strong, unique passwords that are changed regularly. This can prevent external actors from accessing private information in your profile, or hacking your account to impersonate you or take other malicious action.

Assess and report any personal threats

If you are in imminent danger or there has been a direct threat of physical violence, call 911 or the Brown University Department of Public Safety’s (DPS) emergency reporting line immediately at (401) 863-4111. Be prepared to provide an overview of the situation and your concerns:

  • Describe the incident in detail.
  • Share which platforms are you being harassed on.
  • Identify when the harassment began.
  • Explain whether it is connected to something specific, such as an article, commentary or social media post.

Save and share relevant evidence

Save screenshots and other evidence of any threats on social media.

  • Take screenshots of captions and comments with dates and time stamps in case the posts are deleted later.
  • Save any emails, voicemails or text messages that you receive arising from behavior originating online.

If you suspect that the harassment is from a member of the Brown community

Brown policies establish that harassment or discrimination cannot be tolerated in a community committed to maintaining a strong and inclusive educational, working and living environment.

  • Review the University’s codes of conduct – the University Code of Conduct and Code of Student Conduct – which serve as the core policies for establishing standards of behavior within the Brown community.
  • Review the Nondiscrimination and Anti-Harassment Policy for information on discrimination or harassment that potentially violate the policy. The policy defines harassment and discrimination for incidents that impact individuals from legally protected categories and serves as a resource for providing definitions and responsibilities of members of the community for reporting.
  • Report alleged violations of discrimination and harassment to the Division of Campus Life. The Incident Reporting page of the Campus Life website provides easy access to forms for reporting. Students, staff or faculty with questions may contact [email protected] or call 401-863-1800.

Beware of impersonators

It is important to note that there is widespread reporting about sophisticated disinformation campaigns across various platforms. This includes bots posting inflammatory comments that are intended to further divide and inflame those who consume information regularly via social media platforms, as many individuals in the Brown community do. Online agitators who seek to sow discord in communities may also impersonate community members.

  • Read the terms of service for online platforms and messaging apps carefully. For example, some platforms may allow users to sign up as a university community member based on location and proximity data (which could allow non-university users to set up an account without a university email address), while promoting their platforms as allowing students to connect with other “classmates.” Not all of these sites and platforms verify affiliation with Brown.
  • Consult the terms of service for online platforms to understand what types of behavior violate the platform’s standards of conduct and report violations when you see them.


One of the most harmful forms of online harassment is referred to as doxxing (or doxing). This involves online publishing of private identifying information that is not otherwise publicly available to encourage further harassment by others and to intimidate the individual. Such information can include an individual’s private email address, personal phone number, home address, etc., and can be shared through various digital means, including mass emails, social media, blogs and other platforms.

Doxxing can cause serious disruptions and alarm to an individual and can impact their studies, career and livelihood. Below are some practical steps you can take to protect yourself from this form of online harassment:

How can I protect myself from doxxing?

  • Adjust your social media settings to avoid sharing personal information that could be used to find you:
    • Ensure that your profiles and usernames/handles are private.
    • Set your social media posts to “friends only”.
    • Review and employ the privacy settings of all social media platforms that you use.
    • Limit use of third-party applications within social media.
    • Remove any addresses, places of work and specific locations from your accounts.
    • Separate your personal and academic/professional personas. Determine whether it’s necessary or prudent to list on your social media that you study/work at Brown. Consider carefully whether it’s prudent and safe to list your personal cell phone number in your Brown email signature.
  • Dox yourself to understand what personal information others are able to see about you online:
    • Google yourself.
    • Perform a reverse image search on your most-used photos of yourself.
    • Audit your social media profiles.
    • Search and correct information with data brokers.
    • Check your resumes, website bios, and personal websites for information you would prefer to keep private.
  • Set up Google Alerts to get notified if Google receives new results with your data.
  • If you maintain a personal internet domain name for your public web or email activity, work with your Domain Name Service (DNS) provider to hide your domain registration information from WHOIS (a database of all registered domain names on the web).
  • Practice good cyber hygiene. Set up two-step verification; use strong passwords for all your accounts; use a Password Manager like LastPass; and vary your choice of usernames and passwords across platforms and services to help prevent the hacking or hijacking of your accounts.
  • Review this warning from the Department of Homeland Security: “Once a doxxer has access to your email account, they may attempt to obtain more personal information from your account or break into other web-based accounts (e.g., social media, online storage, and financial records) by using email-based password resets or harvesting your information in order to answer website security questions. The doxxer may also attempt to use the same email address and password combination on other sites to gain access to additional accounts.” (Source: "How to Prevent Online Harassment from 'Doxxing'", April 2017.)

What can I do if I have been a victim of doxxing?

  • If you think any information that has been exposed is protected data such as Personally Identifiable Information (PII), and/or information pertaining to physical or mental health conditions, you should report it immediately to the Brown University Department of Public Safety.
  • If you suspect a member of the Brown community has caused the doxxing, report it via the Incident Reporting page on the Brown website. Brown policies and expectations for community behavior establish doxxing as a violation of multiple policies.
  • If you are experiencing online harassment unrelated to Brown, you can report it to your local police department. Brown’s policies are not enforceable when it comes to preventing doxxing from external actors.
  • If the incident involves unauthorized access to Brown University electronic accounts or resources, report it to the Office of Information Technology at [email protected].
  • Inform the platform or website where your personal information was leaked. Many platforms have policies in place to handle doxxing and can assist in removing the data.
  • Request to have your information removed from the internet, which can be a time-consuming process. Refer to this article for steps that you can take as well as the companies that offer to complete these steps for you.

Counseling and Support

In addition to taking the steps above to respond to and minimize harassing behavior online, students, faculty and staff may choose to access additional counseling and support services to support their well-being.

  • Spring Health Employee Assistance Program (EAP). This benefit for all employees provides confidential support services, including counseling, dedicated care navigator for mental health and well-being support, coaching, and other work-life services.
  • Counseling and Psychological Services for Students (CAPS). CAPS offers a range of mental health treatment and prevention services for Brown students in an inclusive, compassionate, affirming and socially just environment.
  • University Ombuds. This administrative office serving students, staff and faculty provides confidential counseling and support to discuss any conflicts, concerns, issues, or questions impacting work, life, or study at Brown.
  • Office of the Chaplains & Religious Life. The office provides confidential pastoral care and advice for students, faculty, staff and alumni.