ANGRY NOISE: Racist and other abuse faced by public sector comms is endemic… here’s some steps you can take to fight it

Footballers have been hitting the headlines for a zero tolerance approach to racist abuse.

Swansea City, Birmingham City and Glasgow Rangers have all boycotted social media for a week because of ongoing abuse.

It’s hard to argue against that.

However, in a recent survey of more than 400 public sector communications people I carried out it shows 12 per cent have seen racist abuse.

That’s an increase of half since the first three months of lockdown.

Look at the figure for more general verbal abuse and the figure rises to 19 per cent.

So, can we just boycott social media?

Unlike football clubs, the public sector doesn’t have the luxury of boycotting a platform for a week in the middle of a pandemic. It needs to be where people are so it can talk to people.

But should people just go on regardless?

Of course, not.

Who cares?

We all should care, shouldn’t we?

Well, we should but frankly there’s a load of people who don’rt even know that this is taking place. In very simple terms, if you’re in the trenches answering social media queries every day there’s a good chance you’re getting worn down by it.

If you’re a manager or head of comms, the further you are away from the social media inbox the less idea you have this is going on. There’s a swathe of central government communications people who have literally no idea this is taking place at all.

What can be done?

I’ve blogged before about the need to have a set of social media house rules in plain English that say what you’ll do and what you’ll put up with. Having it spelt out in black and white means you can take action.

I’ve also heard the suggestion that incidents of abuse should be logged as health and safety incidents.

I couldn’t agree more.

The UK Health and Safety Executive classes violence at work as verbal abuse and threats as well as physical attacks. Looking further into it, all workplaces need to be tackling this.

The HSE’s Preventing Workplace Violence and Harassment download sets out the problem well:

Employers are responsible for identifying and managing the risk of
harassment and violence at work. They should provide clear policies
in relation to harassment and violence, detailing their own
responsibilities, as well as those of their workforce, to raise awareness
of related issues among the workforce, and set standards for
workplace behaviour.

But that’s fine in principle. How do you take the first step towards action?

The HSE have some useful advice on this.

Running a poll of employees and then tell people the results is a useful way that line managers can start to discover and recognise the problem.

That’s a useful first step.

How about racist abuse?

The Citizens Advice Bureau has a useful resource that guides you through the problem of racist abuse in the workplace. It also covers abuse around religion.

Employers need to set out what action they’ll take, what support is there and what steps they’ll take if they think the matter is so serious that a criminal case needs to be brought.

Finally, join a union. I’ve been in the NUJ since the mid-1990s.

It’s time that we took this seriously.

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