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

May 20, 2015

Petition to the Canadian Prime Minister to open an inquiry into the cases of bullying and mobbing in Canada

In recent years Canadians have witnessed how dangerous and devastating the phenomenon of bullying and mobbing can be. For this reason the purpose of this request for a thorough inquiry into the cases of bullying and mobbing in Canada is to ensure that there are mechanisms and procedures in place to confront that evil phenomenon at the very moment its seeds start to appear.

For three reasons an appropriate starting point of this inquiry can be the case of a distressingly successful academic mobbing followed by even more alarming developments as summarized below:
  1. If academic mobbing can succeed even in a case like mine, given my academic background and experience, one can easily imagine how successful this evil phenomenon can be in other cases.

  2. Despite that the evidence presented at the arbitration hearings of my suspension case proved that there was a conspiracy at Concordia University ("There was a serious conspiracy to eliminate him from the University" - see the summary below) and that Concordia's allegations against me were completely groundless (see summary), arbitrators and lawyers acted inexplicably (see summary), which gave rise to the suspicion that organized crime in the very legal system of the Canadian province of Quebec might be involved. This suspicion was further strengthened when my lawyer told me that powerful people are behind this case and I could not win it.
  3. Not only arbitrators and lawyers acted disturbingly inexplicably by ignoring and contradicting the evidence in this case. No less inexplicable was the refusal of the Canadian media to follow the case, particularly the facts behind the suspicion of organized crime, which I think is professionally dishonest (and perhaps even immoral), because the media already covered the beginning of the case by spreading Concordia University's unfounded allegations and had the professional obligation to report on its alarming developments. An inquiry can determine whether this refusal is just another manifestation of how democratic and independent the Canadian media really are, although it clearly cannot be compared, for example, to the much more worrying inaction of the Canadian media - their virtually not informing Canadians about Canada's vote AGAINST the United Nations resolution on Combating glorification of Nazism.
Montrealers would agree that the most urgent reason for dealing particularly with academic mobbing is that not only bullying, but it too could lead to tragedies and innocent victims - academic mobbing might have been behind two tragedies involving researchers in two Montreal Universities:
  • In 1992 the Concordia University engineering professor Valery Fabrikant reached such a crazed state of the mind that he did the unthinkable - took human life.
  • In 1994 the McGill University neurology and neurosurgery professor Justine Sergent and her husband (and colleague) Yves Sergent committed suicide after a series of actions against Justine Sergent, including an anonymous letter accusing her of scientific fraud and after a report on the case by the Montreal Gazette. An inquiry after their death found no evidence of fraud.
An inquiry into the cases of bullying and mobbing in Canada should ensure that there will be no more tragedies caused by this cancerous phenomen in our society. Unfortunately, we are unable to undo the past tragedies. We will probably never learn who "A member of the Montreal academic community" was, who wrote the anonymous letter against Justine Sergent claiming that his or her colleagues "had long suspected (Dr. Sergent) of scientific fraud" and whether there were people at Concordia whose actions might have brought Fabrikant to that crazed state of his mind and might have indirectly contributed to the tragedy.

Before and in 2010 I asked Concordia's administration to investigate seriously the facts (documented actions against me) of academic mobbing, because I feared that similar mobbing practices that might have contributed to the 1992 tragedy had not yet been completely eradicated from Concordia (and this concern was conveyed to the administration exactly as it is written here). Moreover, the author of one of the two reports on the 1992 tragedy - the Arthurs report - Harry Arthurs, lawyer and former president of York University, told an assembly of professors at a conference of the Canadian Association of University Teachers in Ottawa on November 2, 2007 what he found about Fabrikant's allegations: "Many of his allegations were in substance correct."

After a special panel to examine the situation in the philosophy department (where three other colleagues also had problems) ignored both an eyewitness' testimony of the mobbing against me (see summary below) and all the facts I presented (including two copies of the Minutes of the same departmental meeting), I again urged Concordia's administration to deal decisively with the practices of academic mobbing because of all obvious reasons particularly the potential of such practices to lead to tragedies when psychologically sensitive people are targeted as the 1992 and 1994 tragedies, apparently caused by this evil phenomenon, show.

Instead of doing what Concordia's administration was supposed to do (without my urging them) - to confront the facts of academic mobbing - they even refused to meet with the eyewitness and punished the victim by suspending me (but inexplicably did nothing to four philosophy professors who wrote slanderous letters against me, whose untrue content was proved at the arbitration, and one of them referred to me as "pathology" in her letter; as there is no ban the letters can be posted online). Concordia's most serious reason for the suspension was: posing "serious threats to persons at the University" only because Fabrikant's name appeared in several of my letters to them. It is not only I who think that Concordia's allegation is an obvious demonization technique because they called "threats" my very concerns that Concordia's administration ignored the evidence for the existence of academic mobbing at the university and that they were not acting to eliminate this dangerous phenomenon (Concordia's inaction raised the disturbing question of whether Concordia's administration might have acted similarly in 1992, which might have prevented them from avoiding the tragedy). Moreover, the names of Justine and Yves Sergent also appeared together with Fabrikant's name in a very clear and explicitly unthreatening context (as indicated above); for an independent and professional opinion on my mentioning Fabrikant's name see below the letter of September 29, 2010 by Professor Kenneth Westhues, a renowned researcher of academic mobbing (and author of the book The Envy of Excellence: Administrative Mobbing of High-Achieving Professors), which he sent to the Montreal Gazette's Managing Editor and Concordia's President Woodsworth.

NOTE: Even now I do not know what caused the academic mobbing in my case. Before the actions against me became open, I had friendly relations with the colleagues behind those actions - letters and emails from these colleagues, congratulating me for the successfully organized biennial International Conferences on the Nature and Ontology of Spacetime (e.g., "Thanks for the excellent conference"), for the conference grant applications (all were successful and were granted the maximum amounts by SSHRC), for the gaining popularity Montreal Inter-University Seminar on the History and Philosophy of Science and for my research (e.g., "Congratulations on this significant coverage of your work"), were presented at the arbitration (the slanderous letters were written later, behind my back, and Concordia's administration refused to tell me even the names of their authors, which made it impossible for me to file a harassment complaint). After I was susspended, colleagues and friends have been telling me that the reason for the academic mobbing is simple - pure envy: the conferences and my other results had been apparently viewed as too successful by the people behind the actions against me. The fact is that I noticed those actions after the 2004 conference and they escalated as the 2006 and 2008 conferences were increasingly successful (and they sabotaged the 2010 and the following conferences; sabotaged was also the Montreal Inter-University Seminar on the History and Philosophy of Science, which I started in January 2002).