May 30, 2015

Beating “web trolls” like Prof Mal Blunt

I was recently reminded of the sad case of the infamous internet troll, Prof Mal Blunt, formerly of Bulster University, who gained widespread notoriety by monitoring his staff via the internet. He was known as “Bulster’s grisly googler”. He is to web bullies what the police community might call an “habitual offender”. More about Prof Blunt later. This piece is meant by way of guidance to assist victims who may be encountering an on-line bully at college for the first time. Adults in the workplace are not immune to cyber bullying, which can manifest itself in many different forms. Nobody is immune to cyber bullying, but there are steps you can take and support available if you feel you have become a victim of cyber bullying at Work.

anthony-blunt-spy_1214549cFor academics unlucky enough to encounter a nasty Prof Blunt in their workplace, they should know that such creatures employ a range of different examples of bullying at work using electronic means. These would include offensive email and e-mail threats such as comments on social networking sites. Spreading lies and malicious gossip via messaging/chat. Sending an offensive e-mail to a colleague (even if it’s supposed to be a joke,) the content of which might offend the receiver.

This includes any offensive photographs which are attached to an email, and continuing to send similar messages having been asked to stop. The victim can often feel black-listed. E-mail threats can include cases where the implied meaning behind the message can constitute a form of bullying. An example of this might be where a superior is bombarding you with far more work than you can handle, saying that this is part of your job (i.e. If you don’t complete the work you may lose your job) whilst other members of the team are not being treated in the same way.

alan_sharp_reasons_why_carry_a_gunAbrasive and sharp comments may leave the victim feeling they are in a work-place war-zone. The web-trolling may also involve posting blogs and comments on social networking sites- Often a person may not experience any direct form of cyber bullying, but instead the bullies are leaving nasty or offensive comments about them on blogs and social networking sites which can be viewed by others. The comments may be about the person’s performance at work.

It can often seem that the perpetrator has his or her own secret police. Indeed the web comments do not have to be untrue – for example publishing online that a colleague lost a grant application or was caught speeding could constitute bullying as it is designed, or has the effect of embarrassing the subject. Finally, spreading lies and malicious gossip. Social networking sites and blogs are usually the most common ways in which people become victims of cyber bullying in this form. Cyber bullying can occur via any electronic means including text messages and social media (such as Facebook and Twitter).

There is a psychological explanation for cyber bullying harassment or ‘e-bullying’ as it is often referred to, and it can even occur when the person may not intend to harm you. This type of bullying is particularly concerning, as the bully is unlikely to stop their behaviour on their own, as they do not know that they are doing anything wrong. The two main types of non-intentional cyber-bullying- mis-judging Social Situations (this type of cyber-bullying has even led to cases of stalking outside work and so is particularly important to prevent at an early stage) and invasion of privacy such as sharing someone’s private data online.

How to Deal with Cyber Bullying at Work. There is always something of the socio-path about a bully. Whether it’s e-bullying or face-to-face, there are laws surrounding both harassment and bullying in the UK, and you can take legal action if you feel you have become the victim of a cyber bully. Firstly, you should try to resolve the problem with the person directly if you know their identity. In some cases, it might be true that what you thought was offensive was not perceived as such by the sender and there has been some misunderstanding. If the bullying persists, you should go and speak to a manager (or Union Representative if you have one) to discuss the situation and to obtain support. Often they will be able to speak to the bully about their behavior and tell them to stop.

imagesETMO09STConsider a Non-Molestation Order – Obviously a web-troll can quickly become a source of torture. If the bullying still does not stop at the request of your manager, and the emails/text messages are regularly being sent despite you asking the other person to stop, this may be considered harassment. If so, you might be able to obtain a non-molestation order which makes it an offence for the offending party to contact you. Obviously a court cannot prevent you seeing a colleague at work, but they can order that the offending party does not contact you out of work via email, telephone, text message or social media.

images35LAOG07We might take comfort that there is something inherently stupid about web trolling. Sadly its rarely possible simply to order the web-troller off the web. Other simple ways to prevent a colleague e-mailing or contacting you out of work include blocking their number on your phone or blocking them on your social networking site. Cyber bullying is no less unpleasant than conventional bullying. Always remember that you are protected by the law in just the same way as conventional bullying. As for external cyber bullies who are operating outside your workplace, if they are emailing your work email, your college IT department should be able to stop this activity and can also take steps to identify the perpetrators. Remember – if you are being bullied, do not suffer in silence. Tell someone who will be able to help you stand up to the bullies. Nobody should make you feel uncomfortable at your place of work.

sharp (4)Is there Protection from web bullies?  Finally we should comfort all of us who are victims of obsessive web-trollers such as Prof Blunt that there is hope that their web misery will end. Sometimes the web troll will just stop. They may get concerned by the threat of formal or legal action. Perhaps they will find another victim to subject to their trolling. Unluckily for some, other trolls continue with their subversive activities long after they or their victim have left their place of employment. We mentioned at the top of this piece, Prof Mal Blunt, whose trolling actually got worse after the intervention of a High Court Judge. It was as if Blunt was seeking to prove the Judge wrong and of course as web trolling is so hard to detect, the potential penalties are often remote. Blunt, formerly of Bulster University, has conducted an on-line campaign against a former colleague for almost two decades.

images (2)This is (thankfully) and exceptional case and Prof Blunt has been aided by his old college buddies at Bulster who were also cautioned by the Judge. In fact, this is a case where the trolling became a covert substitute for other more overt types of harassment. In such cases the victims should consider whether their interests are best represented by pursuing their web troll by legal means or disregarding them as pathetic losers who have actually destroyed their own lives with their venom.

Seen from this angle, the Prof Blunt’s of the college world may also need our compassion, and probably also need mental help.  Therefore action against web bullying should consider positive measures which may discourage offensive behavior and to find ways of empowering institutions to support staff with appropriate employment and post-employment fora. Perhaps through more effective communication we can stop bullying in the first place.

ADVISORY: This is a work of humorous parody and any similarities with persons or places real or imagined is purely a matter of coincidence. If you’ve been bullied at your F/HE institution don’t hesitate to confidentially contact the Bullied Academics forum. Victims may complain without penalty under their college procedures or consider making a complaint to their local police. Where the police are contacted bullying usually ceases immediately. The e-mail address is


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

This was rife as Middlesex University before they made redundancies and spurious accusations against staff for their conduct. I took a year out in protest of underhand methods that undermine lecturers confidence. Two Associate Deans and a Dean of School with a Program leader colluded in an attempt to discredit after observations about courses and the way the school treated it's students. With careful cross references the case was won. Other staff were placed with colleagues they were known not to get on with to initiate breaches of conduct. It is all recorded in emails. I was there for over 10yrs to see the place fall into disrepute. Here we are trying to improve the student experience by exposing situations and we were attacked for doing so....being not spoken too and ignored in corridors is just one ploy to get people to leave.