Two scientists who faced racist and misogynistic abuse from social media trolls outline some strategies needed to tackle it, and how employers should respond.

Atmospheric scientist Katharine Hayhoe realised she was the only climate researcher in West Texas when she joined Texas Tech University in Lubbock, 15 years ago.

Within a few months she was being asked to address community groups about climate change, but also a growing number of posts from social media trolls who disagreed with her, many of them misogynistic in tone.

The situation has worsened since October 2022, she says. This follows amendments to Twitter’s free speech policies after the platform changed ownership.

“It used to be that I would receive that hate via letters or emails, or phone calls, or official complaints to my university. And those certainly still arrive. But now the deluge of hundreds of hateful comments in a single day that the internet facilitates, whether it is on Twitter, or LinkedIn, or Facebook, or even Instagram, the volume is just 100 times more than it would be without the Internet.”

Hayhoe and Chris Jackson, a geoscientist who was extensively trolled after becoming the first Black researcher to deliver a Royal Institution Christmas lecture, describe how employers can protect scientists facing both online and in-person harassment, alongside they personal strategies they have adopted to protect themselves.

In the fifth episode of this seven-part podcast series about freedom and safety in science, they are joined by Alfredo Carpineti, a science journalist who chairs Pride in STEM, a UK charity that supports LGBTQIA+ scientists and engineers, and Lauren Kurtz, executive director of the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund, a nonprofit to help environmental scientists in the United States who find themselves under fire.

The first six episodes in this series conclude with a follow-up sponsored slot from the International Science Council about how it is exploring freedom, responsibility and safety in science.