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Find and establish a supportive community of friends, colleagues, and allies online who can come to your aid—and whom you can support—during episodes of online harassment.

The following information is specific to creating online communities, which may overlap with other social networks in your life you can reach out to when online abuse escalates or goes public.

1. Find your people.

If you’re active on social media, you may already belong to one or more conversation threads, group chats, or forums dedicated to the topics and issues you care about. 

If you’re not very active on social media or in chat rooms but wish to find a community of writers or other individuals online, start with your real-world connections. Send a group text to your friends or an email to the professional, editorial, or alumni groups you’re a part of and ask if they belong to any online communities. 

And if all else fails . . . start your own online group!  Consider inviting people from:

  • Any publication that’s ever published your work, online or off.
  • Professed fans or followers of your work.
  • Editors, copy editors, and researchers you may have worked with in the past.
  • Former classmates from  journalism school or a writing  program.
  • Former members of a writing workshop you attended.
  • People you networked with at a recent writing conference.
  • Any identity-specific group you belong to  that shares a characteristic important to you.

2. Post a note to the group on the subject of online harassment.

It’s important that online communities talk about and acknowledge the implications of online harassment before it begins. If you trust a particular online group to have your back the next time you’re attacked online, don’t be afraid to post a message containing the following information:

  • An explicit acknowledgement that online harassment exists and is counter to  productive online dialogue in any online forum.
  • If you’re comfortable sharing, a brief anecdote about how online harassment has impacted you personally, to help personalize and narrativize the issue.
  • A call to action to the group. This could be a general request for a pledge from group members to maintain the community as a harassment-free space. Or you could publish a more specific request asking people to pledge their allyship to anyone in the group who asks for help or intervention during an episode of online harassment.

3. Create a separate place where members of your community can be easily reached in a time of crisis.

This could be  an email distribution list, a WhatsApp group, a private Slack workspace, etc. Draft a note in advance that you can have ready to send  when your writing is published or when the harassment begins.

Example of a crisis note: “SOS—Publishing an article about Finnish politics today. Last time I published on this topic, I received major hate on Twitter (people doxing my home address and calling me racial slurs). Can anyone get on the article’s comments section at 12 pm EST and write something positive to help set the tone of the thread? You don’t have to agree with what I write, but anything written in a respectful tone without hateful language will help!”

Pro Tip for Journalists

You can reach out to your fellow journalists and ask them to consider posting a comment as soon as the article is published. This can make a difference because research has shown that trolls often narrow their sights to just a few threads. Accordingly, if the initial comments in a thread are civil and polite, the ensuing posts are more likely to take on the tone of those early comments. Reporters who cover specific beats should consider banding together with journalists from other news organizations who cover the same issues. When harassment begins, you can tap into this community to chime in on the online conversation.

4. Give back to your online community.

In quieter times, when you aren’t exhausted by your own online abuse, be sure to offer your support and allyship to other writers facing their own episodes of harassment. When digital communities come together to push back against toxic online behavior, it serves as an important defense against the groups and individuals perpetuating online hate.

Writers looking to connect with other writers in their genre and/or geographic locale can check out Poets & Writers“Literary Places” database, a resource of “writerly destinations—places writers can visit for inspiration, to promote their writing, for research, and to discover community.”

For more information about how to leverage your supportive cyber communities during episodes of online abuse, see Deploying Your Supportive Cyber Communities.