There’s no question that online attacks through social media and other online forums have grown exponentially over the years. Nationally, online attacks on individuals have increased, often on social media platforms, on message boards, and through other online forums. Even more, people have turned to online platforms for professional purposes during the COVID-19 pandemic leading to more attacks.

These hostile “trolling attacks” may be directed against an individual’s politics, personal identities or characteristics, or their scholarship as well as others. 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 Office at UNM are the first points of contact in mobilizing resources to support and assist in these attacks.

Three major areas, including doxing, trolling and Zoom bombing, have emerged on these online platforms. The definitions of these attacks include:

  • 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.

“UNM has seen an increase in trolling due to more online learning and working. In addition to posting racist, sexist, or overtly sexual material on social media,” said UNM President Garnett S. Stokes. “We’re also seeing bombing on learning and working platforms with harassing words and photos. This type of trolling has absolutely no place at UNM. Don’t engage with trolls and please report any such behavior.”

Malicious acts on the internet including trolling, doxing, and Zoom bombing are real threats to intellectual freedom and the safety and security of the campus community. Emboldened by the relative anonymity of the internet and enabled by access to systems that do not require authentication to share video, text and images, these acts are typically perpetrated by people outside of the UNM community who want to disrupt events and prevent the free exchange of ideas. Whether personally or politically motivated, or dismissed as a “prank” by the perpetrator, these acts are not harmless.

It is in the best interest of the UNM community to take active measures to prevent them from occurring. This includes active measures to prevent unwanted participants from joining a meeting or a webinar, and measures to limit the ability of meeting participants to post objectionable materials or comments. Visit Preventing Trolling, Doxing and Zoom Bombing to learn more about these attacks.

Resources are also available for responding to these incidents including calling 911 if the individual is in immediate physical danger. Additionally, UNM’s Academic Technologies and OEO recently hosted a webinar Protecting the Pack: Preventing trolling, doxing and zoom bombing to educate the campus community in mitigation and prevention efforts.

In addition, COVID-19 has also accelerated the adoption of online tools for teaching, learning, research, and managing the university. Among these tools, web conferencing and event tools that facilitate synchronous communication online are important for course work, business and research meetings, public lectures, forums, and online conferences. However, these areas have also been targeted and recommendations have been developed to assist the campus community to preserve the integrity of general and class meetings as it relates to The University’s mission.

Another area of online vitriol relates to the recent general election. To that end, The Division for Equity and Inclusion in partnership with various other departments and organizations has compiled many resources for those teaching and interacting on campus during these uncertain days and times of heightened stress. To read more about these offerings, visit DEI Resources.

For more information and to find tips and other recommendations, visit UNM Web Meetings.