Employers should support victims of online targeting and shaming more effectively in future
Employers should support an employee who is subject to online targeting and shaming on social media or otherwise because of his or her duties. In addition, the police must ensure uniform practices in the investigation of online targeting and shaming. This will improve the position of the victim and safeguard legal protection, says the Ministry of the Interior's working group.
On 11 February, the working group submitted its report to Minister of the Interior Maria Ohisalo. The task of the working group was to put forward proposals for measures to combat online targeting and shaming more effectively. The working group examined online targeting and shaming broadly as an activity targeted at different authorities, decision-makers, companies and opinion leaders.
The working group's report contains concrete proposals for measures to prevent online targeting and shaming and improve the legal protection of the victims. The report also highlights issues that employers should take into account in future with regard to online targeting and shaming. The recommendations concern both public and private sector employers and third-sector organisations.
“Employers should support their employees by drawing up guidelines for incidents concerning online targeting and shaming, that is for situations where employees, freelancers, volunteers participating in the employer's activities or their loved ones are subject to online targeting and shaming. Employers should also direct employees who have fallen victim to online targeting and shaming to support services at a low threshold,” says Tarja Mankkinen, Head of Development, from the Ministry of the Interior, who chairs the working group.
A democratic society does not accept online targeting and shaming, threats and exerting pressure
Online targeting and shaming is a phenomenon in which one or more persons or groups urge and incite a large number of people to attack one person in different ways, for example by sending hate messages by email or posting such on social media. The authorities aim to promote open and constructive public debate and to prevent online targeting and shaming that restricts public debate, action and freedom of expression.
Online targeting and shaming can take the form, for example of a direct or indirect threat, or of exposing details about someone’s private life and distorting the information. Although online targeting and shaming is often targeted at an individual person, it seeks to influence the activities or decision-making of the entire organisation.
“It is part of our open society that the actions of the authorities may be evaluated and criticised. For this purpose, we have established systems that guarantee legal protection for people, such as the right of lodging a complaint. Criticism of an authority's actions or a single case of a criticism of a public duty is not online targeting and shaming,” Mankkinen says.
“On the other hand, online targeting and shaming is a systematic harassment, the aim of which is to undermine trust in organisations or institutions that are important for the functioning of society. This is done by threatening or exerting pressure on an individual employee. This does not belong to an open society,” Mankkinen says.
Both employers and authorities should direct the victim of online targeting and shaming at a lower threshold than before to the victim support services, from which he or she can be referred to the right services.
“For the victim of online targeting and shaming, the experience is often paralyzing and frightening. However, this is a more extensive problem than that of a single case. If we do not intervene, it will send a strong message to those responsible for online targeting and shaming that it is a useful and productive tool for exerting influence,” Mankkinen says.
According to the working group, more attention should also be paid to the position of the victim and the exercise of their rights in criminal proceedings. The aim is to increase public authorities' awareness of and training in cases of online targeting and shaming.
“It is important to ensure uniform practices in the investigation of online targeting and shaming in order to ensure equitable implementation of criminal liability in the cases of online targeting and shaming,” says Mankkinen.
The working group proposes a clear definition of online targeting and shaming
The working group also proposes a clear definition of online targeting and shaming:
Online targeting and shaming means an activity in which an individual, by means of his or her own actions or by mobilising others, initiates or encourages organised harassment against one target, which may be direct or indirect. The means are, for example speaking ill of someone, dissemination of private information, or threats. Online targeting and shaming may also be directed at a person through his or her loved ones. The goal of online targeting and shaming is to influence people or society's structures and institutions and, in particular, trust in them.
The definition of online targeting and shaming proposed by the working group is not legally binding, but it can be used not only for data collection but also for training and raising general awareness of online targeting and shaming. A common definition of online targeting and shaming is needed for obtaining reliable and comprehensive information on the extent, targets and impacts of online targeting and shaming on individuals and society.
“For future work, it would be important to examine how widespread the phenomenon of online targeting and shaming is. Our working group proposes that a study be carried out on the extent of online targeting and shaming,” says Mankkinen.
Tarja Mankkinen, Head of Development, Chair of the working group, tel. +358 295 488 370