Responding to Incidents

Nationally, unfair online attacks on individuals have increased, often in social media, on message boards, and through other online forums. These hostile “trolling attacks” may be directed against an individual’s politics, personal identities or characteristics, or their scholarship. These attacks can be professionally disruptive, personally difficult, and have serious impacts. The University of New Mexico Police Department (UNMPD), the Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO), Information Security, and Dean of Students at UNM are the first points of contact in mobilizing resources to support and assist.

The Division of Equity and Incusion has prepared a printable postcard resource guide, and a formatted brochure for quick reference. Many of the recommendations in these resource documents are also included below.

If you are the target of one of these attacks, it may be helpful to get support and guidance from one of UNM's many resource centers.

Definitions:

Doxing is a search for and publication of private or identifying information about a particular individual on the Internet, typically with malicious intent.

Trolling is the deliberate act of making random unsolicited and/or controversial comments on various Internet forums with the intent to provoke an emotional reaction from unsuspecting readers to engage in a fight or argument, it can also be a direct attack on a target. It can sometimes impede academic freedom in the educational context.

Zoom bombing refers to the unwanted, disruptive intrusion, generally by Internet trolls into a video conference call. It is important to recognize that some trolling might be free speech and therefore not actionable for institutional discipline.

Immediate Action: Is the targeted individual in immediate physical danger?

Yes: call 911.
After 911, and for all other cases: continue with steps below.

  • Document the nature of the incident using the form found at https://unm.ethicspoint.com. If the incident involves Zoom, please be sure to include the Zoom meeting ID in your report.
  • Mobilize University resources by contacting the following:
    • Appropriate Dean, Chair, and/or unit executive officer
    • UNMPD: 277.2241
    • For media responses, contact UCAM: Cinnamon Blair or Daniel Jiron
    • Counseling and Referral Services (CARS): 272.6868
    • UNM Dean of Students Office: 505.277.3361, doso@unm.edu (for incidents impacting students).
    • Office of Equal Opportunity OEO: 505.277.5251 (for victims of protected status trolling) – oeo.unm.edu
    • UNM Information Security Operations: 505.277.2497
  • Contact service providers to preserve logs / evidence or to take immediate action
    • If the incident was Zoom Bombing: IT service providers of web conferencing technologies such as Zoom, Teams, or other online meeting tools may have logs or other evidence that only the service provider can access. UNM IT can facilitate service requests to technology providers to obtain log information and related evidence if the meeting is being hosted through a system supported by UNM IT. If the incident occurs in an environment that is hosted with a private account or through another organization, the host of the meeting will need to work the service provider directly to obtain logs.
    • Social media platforms such as Twitter, FaceBook, YouTube, and others have their own processes for addressing unlawful or inappropriate content. In some cases, only the companies that provide these services can remove content or address issues. UNM has identified points of contact and response checklists for incidents and can assist you with the process of reporting and investigation. 
  • Confirm that UNMPD has been contacted. If not, do so. Responding parties shall follow a checklist to ensure that appropriate response activities have taken place e.g., have you contacted Facebook, have you contacted the Zoom meeting host, etc. If the incident involves students, the Campus Assessment Response Education (CARE) Team, should be contacted by filing a CARE Report at https://care.unm.edu/ 
  • Provide the “Responding to Trolling Attacks” brochure to the scholar if they haven’t already received it.

Recommendations for targeted students/faculty/staff

If You Are the Target of a Trolling incident:

IMPORTANT: Call 9-1-1 immediately if you or your family are in imminent physical danger.

  • Try to document the incident by taking a screen shot and upload to UNM Ethics Point, http://unm.ethicspoint.com/
  • Contact your executive officer (chair, head, director) to guide you through additional steps.
  • Contact the University of New Mexico Police Department (277.2241).

These attacks are intense, but are not usually sustained. Your email, social media accounts, and contact information likely will be publicized. You can request that your contact information and profile be temporarily hidden from department/unit web pages, and it is a good idea to Google your information to determine where on the web it may be published. Responding to harassing messages tends to prolonged and inflame incidents.

  • Consider suspending social media activity for a few days. Try to preserve all messages, email postings or voicemails you receive as evidence. Consider allying UNMPD, IT Security, or a trusted individuals to sort them if you don’t want to see them. It is a good idea to turn off notifications, especially on Twitter, if you choose not to suspend – if only for mental health reasons. Seeing them can be overwhelming and amplify stress and fear. Most followers and people outside the account do not see everything that pops up through notifications, but to the account holder it can seem that the whole world is watching/piling on. Consider allying UNMPD, IT Security, or a trusted individuals to sort them if you don’t want to see them.
  • Media outlets may contact you, but you do not need to directly respond. Consult with University Communications and Marketing (505.277.5813, or ucam@unm.edu) for guidance regarding whether a response is appropriate, and for assistance on any response. It is recommended that the targeted individual notifies their immediate circle so they understand that it’s not up to them to speak to media or post “helpful” comments on their social media without first speaking with the target, as it may make the situation worse.
  • These events may affect your students or classes. If you believe the incident will disrupt class experiences, speak with your unit executive officer about alternative instruction arrangements.
  • A trolling attack may involve someone who attends your class and records you. Unless recording is occurring due to COVID or accessibility, you may have the right to prohibit audio/video recording in your classroom. If the issue emanates from an enrolled student, please refer this incident to the Dean of Students.

If you are the host of a web-based meeting and you witness or are made aware of Trolling/ Doxing in an online meeting, take steps to remove the offending material, prevent future occurrences, and reassure and support the victims of the attack. Contact UNM Police to report the incident and be advised of next steps. 

If you are a participant in a web-based meeting, contact the meeting host (moderator) to report the incident and follow up with UNM Police, Office of Equal Opportunity, and UNM Dean of Students as appropriate.

If you are a participant in a web-based conference contact meeting host or moderator, and feel free to report to UNMPD, OEO, and/or UNM Ethics Point, http://unm.ethicspoint.com/  

Recommendations for Deans, Directors, Chairs:

Prepare and distribute to faculty within the unit a statement of support as quickly as possible, ideally within hours of the attack. Keep in mind that the statement will reach faculty, staff, and students in the unit; faculty in the discipline; and people in the community. You may want to ask DEI and UCAM to provide assistance in crafting the statement.

The statement should contain the following elements:

  • A commitment to academic freedom
  • A statement recognizing the faculty members’ standing in the field
  • A statement supporting the faculty members’ research

Here is a sample message:

“The University of New Mexico is committed to academic freedom. [SCHOLAR NAME] is an established and admired scholar in [DISCIPLINARY AREA] and a valued member of our university. As with all of our scholars at the University of New Mexico, [PROFESSOR NAME] has the right of academic freedom necessary to pursue scholarship and research on important subjects and to reach conclusions even if some might disagree with those conclusions. Exploring challenging and important questions is exactly what scholars in a world-class university should be doing.”

  • Prepare staff to handle harassing phone calls and inquiries. Provide them with language:

“I appreciate your interest in this issue. Responses to calls on this topic are being coordinated by University Communications and Marketing. Would you like me to transfer you to that office?”

  • Support Students: If on-going, Students may be uncomfortable attending class or may have questions about the attack. Talk to the instructor about how to handle them. Be prepared to move classrooms. Discuss whether to have a substitute instructor. Offer ideas about alternative student activities while the attack is occurring.

There may be an impact on other classes, even classes not taught by the faculty member. Discuss this possibility with the advising team and faculty.

  • Faculty and staff of the home unit may want to show support. Identify ways they can assist. Those can range from speaking publicly in defense of the person who has been attacked to talking through what has happened.
  • Other faculty may worry about their safety and vulnerability to these attacks. Take these concerns seriously. Connect them with appropriate resources.
  • Co-authors and collaborators may be affected, as the attack may have repercussions beyond campus. It may be beneficial to contact the relevant disciplinary organizations.

The effects of these incidents may linger beyond the immediate episode. The individual may lose trust in the broader community or experience reduced confidence. Connect the individual with employee assistance services and/or Student Health and Counseling as appropriate, who can assist with any recurring personal issues. Follow up with the individual periodically.

Be aware that the attack may have implications for academic progress for students and for promotion and tenure for faculty and staff. The individual may experience a decline in productivity. Be sure to discuss this with the individual in the months after the attack. For faculty, consider the possibility of tenure rollback. Keep in mind, when soliciting external evaluations for the promotion process, that the attack may affect the scholar’s reputation.