Online Targeting Resources

Online Targeting Resources

Online targeting is often used as a means of attacking individuals for their political activities or positions. Online targeting takes many forms, including:

  • posting offensive or demeaning messages about an individual on social media (“trolling”);
  • sending harassing or threatening email messages; and
  • publishing personal, identifying information about an individual in an attempt to coerce, intimidate, or harass them (“doxxing”). The term “doxxing" originates from the phrase “dropping documents (docs or dox)”. Doxxing incidents may include publishing the individual’s home address, phone number, or email address; it may also include sharing content accessed by hacking the individual’s personal account(s), such as images or videos.
Protect Yourself Online

There are simple actions you may take to protect yourself from some kinds of online targeting and also from other threats, such as identity theft. Although not an exhaustive list, the following guidelines, tips, and reminders will assist you in safeguarding your personal information.

  • Use strong, unique passwords for your accounts and avoid sharing them. For help choosing a good passphrase, visit the UVA Passphrase Guidance. Do not re-use UVA passwords/passphrases anywhere else online.
  • Be cautious about posting personal information on Instagram, Facebook, X, or other social media sites. When using social media, do not post your home address, phone number, workplace address, or other personal information. Limit the visibility of your posts to those in your approved network (“friends”).
  • When connecting to the internet through an untrusted network, such as in a coffee shop or airport, use a VPN (Virtual Private Network). If you are unable to use a VPN, be sure that the public network sharing functionality on your device is disabled.
  • Beware of phishing scams and never disclose personal information in unsolicited emails or pop-ups. These emails may appear to be legitimate. Be wary. Legitimate sources will not ask for personal or account information without verifying the email. If you receive an electronic communication such as an email from what appears to be your bank or credit card company, or any email that seems out of context given the sender, directing you to click an embedded link, delete the email. Learn more about phishing.
  • Do not use another individual’s credentials or allow them to use yours.
  • Log off or password lock the screen of your computer when you leave your desk.
  • Keep information displayed on your screen confidential, and keep confidential printed material secured.
  • If you become aware that University data may have been exposed to unauthorized persons, email Information Security.
If You Are Being Targeted Online

Report It

  • If you or those close to you are in imminent physical danger or there has been a direct threat of physical violence, call 911 immediately (and contact University Police Department as soon afterwards as you can). If there is no immediate physical threat, but you have received a threat to your personal safety through emails, phone calls, online posts, or other means, you should contact the Office of Threat Assessment. The Office of Threat Assessment may engage local, state, or federal law enforcement.
    • Faculty and staff: in addition to contacting the Office of Threat Assessment, inform your department chair or supervisor.
  • Document what you’re experiencing. Save any relevant voicemails, emails, and text messages, and take screenshots or photos of social media postings that include coercive, intimidating, or harassing content.
  • If the source of the targeting behavior is a student, email Student Affairs: Policy, Accountability, and Critical Events (PACE). PACE can assist you with potential disciplinary action including filing a complaint with the University Judiciary Committee. PACE can also assist students with understanding the University’s policies related to doxxing.
  • To report an incident in our community related to Bias and Discrimination/Harassment, Sexual and Gender-Based Harassment and Violence, Hazing, Clery Act Compliance (by CSAs), Interference with Speech Rights, Youth Protection, and Preventing & Addressing Threats or Acts of Violence, use the Just Report It page.
  • Report phishing attempts on your UVA email through the What is Phishing page.

Set Up Email Filters

Email filters can be used to redirect harassing or threatening messages. This allows you to avoid seeing these messages while preserving them for potential investigation.

The UVA Help Desk is available 24/7 to provide support with these processes.

Request Removal of Coercive, Harassing, or Threatening Content and Conduct

Many social media platforms allow users to report inappropriate content and to request its removal. For example, you can report harassment or bullying on Instagram, and report abusive content on Facebook. On YouTube, click on the three-dot icon near the bottom-right corner of the video to reveal the “Report” button. For other platforms, searching the user guide for “report” is a good first step for identifying reporting processes.

Examine Your Online Presence

  • Some personal information and images can be removed from Google search results. Consult Google’s removal policy and processes page.
  • The New York Times Digital Security Education Hub contains a list of resources for “cleaning up your online footprint”. These resources provide steps you can take that may help prevent doxxing and other kinds of online targeting. 
  • There are also services that can assist for a cost.
  • Students: to place a FERPA restriction on your SIS academic record, please complete the Request Regarding Confidentiality of Directory Information form.
    • Please consider very carefully the impacts of any decision to withhold Directory Information. If you choose to request that the University withhold this information, any future request from non-institutional persons or organizations will be refused unless your written consent is provided with the request. Please be aware that this includes verification of education/degrees earned at UVA.
  • Faculty and staff: consider temporarily removing your information from the UVA People Search by updating your privacy settings in Workday. This process also removes contact information from the global address list in Outlook, so you may wish to reinstate your contact information at a later date. Contact your department or dean’s office about temporarily removing your contact information from department websites.

Explore Care Services at UVA

  • Contact Care and Support Services. If you need to speak with someone immediately, contact the Dean on Call.
  • Contact TalkNow for 24/7, on-demand access to a mental health professional to talk about anything at any time. Students can connect to TalkNow within minutes to discuss any level of concern, from conflicts with roommates to more serious mental health crises. 
  • Access safe transportation options.
  • Download the Rave Guardian app, which facilitates virtual escorts and has other safety features.
Faculty and staff:

Consider Seeking Legal Advice

As a public university, we are bound and protected by the First Amendment protections of the U.S. Constitution. It is important to note that the First Amendment affords wide latitude for speech, including speech that some would see as offensive, hateful, or harassing. Frequently asked questions related to the freedom of speech, academic freedom, the rights of student groups and controversial speakers, and our commitment to community safety are found on the University’s free speech website.

A lawyer can help you explore your legal options by explaining risks, costs, and likely outcomes of a potential legal claim. The Virginia State Bar's Virginia Lawyer Referral Service or Virginia Legal Aid provide lists of private attorneys. The UVA Office of General Counsel does not provide counsel or representation to individual faculty, staff, administrators or students in matters outside the scope of University business.

Student Legal Services could be an option for students seeking legal information or resources.