On Friday PEN America launched its Online Harassment Field Manual, a first-of-its-kind resource to equip and empower writers, journalists, and all those active online with practical tools and tactics to defend against hateful speech and trolling.
Research with more than 230 writers revealed alarming findings that highlight the relevance of the Field Manual and the threat that online harassment poses for free speech: two-thirds of those trolled reported reactions including refraining from publishing their work, deleting social media accounts, and fears for personal safety; over a third avoided certain topics in their writing. Writers were targeted for their viewpoints, but also based on their race, gender, and sexual orientation. Those belonging to marginalized communities or speaking out on injustice faced more egregious forms of online hate.
“Online harassment poses a clear threat to free expression, as evidenced by the results of our survey,” said PEN America Chief Executive Officer Suzanne Nossel. “When certain voices are muzzled, when people choose not to write about topics that matter, and when they remove themselves from the public debate, everyone loses. As an organization of and for writers, PEN America is especially disturbed by the ways in which online harassment affects their work. Journalists and writers whose web presence is a professional imperative can’t be left defenseless in the face of rampant digital intimidation, provocation, and vitriol when they dare to stick their heads above the parapet.”
The Field Manual offers a one-stop bank of advice, guidance, and resources on cyber-stalking, doxing, hate speech, and other forms of digital vitriol, intended to fortify writers and journalists with the best available methods and means to protect themselves and secure their own freedom to write.
The Field Manual also offers recommendations directed to employers, tech companies, and law enforcement on the parts they need to play to prevent online harassment. While the content is geared toward writers, much of the advice and techniques are relevant to anyone confronting hostility online. Manual highlights include:
- A number of first-hand accounts of online harassment and their aftermath
- Step-by-step guides for enhancing cyber security and preventing doxing
- An online harassment glossary with proposed responses
Ideas for leveraging online writing communities to combat online harassment
- Tips for combating hate speech with counterspeech
- Guidelines for allies and witnesses interested in intervening in online harassment
- Best practices for employers of writers and journalists to improve institutional support during episodes of online abuse
Information about online harassment and the law
“In the digital age, all writers and publishers of online content are vulnerable and susceptible to web attacks,” said PEN America Journalism and Press Freedom Project Manager Laura Macomber. “Those facing online harassment must make an impossible decision: engage and put themselves at risk, or disconnect and miss out on important online discourse. Our goal is to equip writers and their allies—especially those whose livelihoods are at stake—with resources to push back against online hatred and harassment so they can continue to do their jobs.”
The Online Harassment Field Manual launched Saturday in New York City during a panel discussion on combating online hate, which is part of the PEN World Voices Festival. To continue the conversation, PEN America and the National Press Club Journalism Institute will host a panel about journalists fighting back against online harassment on April 27, the day before the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, in Washington, D.C.
The Online Harassment Field Manual is available at https://onlineharassmentfieldmanual.pen.org
PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. The organization champions the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.