3. Archaeologists Online

Of interest to us is that archaeologists and heritage professionals are increasingly investing both in such biographical work and in exposing their own biographies (whether unwittingly or not) through the application of online media for purposes mandated by their employers, funding bodies, publishers, and related affiliates, and for their own self-promotion. Yet in so doing, they are putting themselves at risk - risk that, as discussed above, often goes unspoken, unassessed and unregulated, but that relates to the very advantages of the web itself: its exposure and visibility; its options for accessibility, inclusivity, and anonymity; its openness and generally unpatrolled boundaries.

From our perspective, fetishising the perceived techno-economic benefits of these media has put us in a precarious position as practitioners, unequipped to respond to - or even to understand - the fallout of their application. As robust evaluation of the social impacts of social media in archaeology is generally nonexistent, and as one member of our team has been subject to both the positive and the deeply negative effects of their use (Perry 2014), we were prompted to launch a preliminary assessment of the scope and degree of influence of web-based communication on professional communities. Discussed further below, we are among only a handful of researchers to invest in study of adult audiences applying online media in their everyday working lives. We aimed, in the first instance, to gauge general experiences across fields of practice, and from there to drill down into vocation-specific incidents, with a view to establishing a baseline for a larger, cross-disciplinary, multi-modal enquiry into professional experience. To our knowledge, Richardson's (2014) survey of 248 archaeological affiliates is the only one to report instances of trolling and abuse within the archaeology and heritage sectors. (However, the team behind has recently launched a survey to gauge professional experiences (including harassment) among the maritime archaeological community.) Richardson's findings, which are not dissimilar to our own, are woven into our discussion below.

To start, we adopted a survey-based data collection strategy, grounded in a 24-question online questionnaire (see Table 1), built through Google Forms and circulated via institutional mailing lists and social media, including Facebook, Twitter, email and the blogs of our team members. A population of over 400 professionals responded, returning 403 complete questionnaires, 397 of which identified the respondent as a user of digital media for work purposes. The survey solicited generic demographic details, alongside specific feedback on the type of digital media that respondents used in their working lives, the influence of such media on their professional identities, the nature and frequency of any form of inappropriate or uncomfortable communications through such media, and the action (if any) taken in response to these communications.

Figure 1
Figure 1: Self-described job types of survey respondents from the archaeology, heritage, and related sectors, with more frequently reported types in proportionally larger font [Download data]

All data were provided anonymously, although respondents were given the opportunity to provide their email address to receive updates on the survey results. Owing to the professional archaeological affiliation of two of the three project members (Shipley and Perry), a significant proportion of responses came from within the archaeological and heritage arena, providing a vision of discipline-specific experiences of the digital world. Of the 397 digital media-using respondents, 120 - or just over 30% of the total - were submitted by those working or studying in archaeology/heritage-related fields (e.g. archaeology, museums, conservation, historic environment) (Figure 1), with others coming from sectors as varied as aesthetics, librarianship, neuroscience, and climate change. Despite such career diversity, the data collected from the archaeology/heritage cohort more-or-less paralleled those from the larger population. Among the former, 65% (78 of 120) identified themselves as female, 51.7% (62 of 120) as affiliated with the higher education sector, 25% (30 of 120) as established members of their profession, 29.2% (35 of 120) as junior-level professionals, and 28.3% (34 of 120) as students and jobseekers (Figure 2). These results generally reflected the larger survey population, in which 68% of respondents were female (270 total), 60.2% (239 total) from higher education, 32.7% (130 total) established professionals, 28.5% (113 total) as junior-level professionals, and 20.4% (81 total) as students and jobseekers.

Figure 2
Figure 2: Proportions of male and female archaeology and heritage respondents by self-reported career stage [Download data]

Within the archaeology/heritage-specific population, 68.3% and 71.7% (82 and 86 of 120) felt that digital media strongly impacted upon their work and their professional image, respectively. A further 70% (84 of 120) indicated that such media had a generally positive influence on their working lives. However, in the same breath, nearly one out of every three (39 of 120) spoke of experiencing at least one instance of inappropriate or uncomfortable communication via digital media in a professional capacity (see below for more on the nature of such communications), with the proportions being fairly similar for both men 35.7% (15 of 42) and women 30.8% (24 of 78) (Figure 3). Importantly, contrary to what might have been expected based on anecdotal data and the experiences of those in the public eye, marked gender divides were not obvious here; indeed, males reported slightly higher incidences of online abuse.

Figure 3: Proportions of male and female archaeology and heritage respondents reporting inappropriate online communications in their working lives [Download data]

Among the broader population, the data are comparable, with 41.1% of respondents (163 of 397) reporting inappropriate or uncomfortable online communications in a professional context. Also, the proportions of male and female targets are broadly similar (40.7% women; 40.8% men). Thus while survey participants were self-selecting, the correlations between subsets of respondents hint that web-based abuse is relatively common within working environments, and is consistent across gender lines. Put into relief against other self-reported studies of professional abuse, the proportion seen in our research is smaller than that described in Clancy et al.'s (2014) assessment of offline harassment in fieldwork settings (64%), where over 20% of respondents reported actual sexual assault, and nearly one-quarter identified as archaeologists (159 of 666). It is slightly higher than that reported in Richardson's (2014, appendix F) query of inappropriate comments, abusive behaviour and trolling experienced by archaeological and heritage professionals via their organisational websites and social media presences (18.9%). But, as per below, it is consistent with larger intersectoral trends. In all cases, between 3-in-5 to 1-in-5 professionals describe abusive engagements in their online and offline working lives.

Richardson (2014, 128) is among several to draw attention to the ties between offline and online presence; as she writes, 'Internet relationships complement and enhance most real-life relationships in the real world, rather than replace them completely'. Such links are attested to within our own survey data, wherein 59% of the archaeology/heritage-specific population reported knowing at least one of the perpetrators of their abusive communications in an offline capacity. This percentage aligns with the general population, 57.7% of whom reported offline acquaintance with perpetrators. Such data call into question the stereotypical image of the anonymous troll, suggesting that web-based harassment follows a similar pattern to offline harassment, in which a target is often abused by a known figure. The ramifications here are profound in terms of managing and monitoring workplace relations, designing systems to report problematic behaviours in both virtual and 'real' spaces, and safeguarding (and providing safe places for) professionals in all aspects of their practice.

The frequency of these abusive online interactions is especially worthy of concern, because among archaeology/heritage respondents who reported harassment, 38.5% indicated that they had been abused on at least five separate occasions in their professional lives to date (Figure 4). The general population of respondents showed a corresponding pattern, with nearly 2 in every 5 professionals (36.2%) noting at least five episodes of abuse.

Figure 4
Figure 4: Frequency of online harassment and abuse reported by archaeology and heritage workers [Download data]

In terms of the identity of the abusers themselves, among archaeologists and heritage specialists, 83.3% of female respondents reported the involvement of at least one male perpetrator, while 53.3% of male respondents reported the involvement of at least one female perpetrator. These data broadly tallied with the overall survey results, where 82.7% of females described the involvement of at least one male perpetrator, compared to 51% of male respondents describing female perpetrators. Again, such statistics counter traditional stereotypes of online abuse, emphasising the culpability of both men and women.