Making a complaint about offensive or other unacceptable on-line material

Aberystwyth University (A.U) has a duty to ensure that the computing facilities under its responsibility are not misused This duty includes acting to prevent use that may offend or disturb staff, students, or external users of its services.

Information Services (I.S.), acting  for A.U has a procedure in place for investigating any complaint received. The underlying principles are:

  • The procedure is the same whether the complaint comes from AU or elsewhere.
  • Any computer-based activity undertaken by staff or students at A.U under the aber.ac.uk domain is covered
  • A nominated member of the A.U staff has the responsibility as initial point of contact and for ensuring the procedure is followed.

Areas of Possible Particular Concern

There are three areas that can be particularly identified where Information Services has been given a responsibility for following up on complaints as a matter of urgency - those of offensive or harassing material, and of material offered from A.U Web sites..

Offensive Material

People using computing facilities at A.U have the right  to expect that they will not accidentally encounter offensive, disturbing, or illegal material in any form. Examples of where such material could be encountered are:

  • Displayed on devices under Information Services responsibility, for example printers or computers in computer rooms
  • Sent as unsolicited email
  • Published on a A.U Web site

It is important for users to remember that material that is quite acceptable to them when viewed in their own room or exchanged between friends may not be if encountered unexpectedly by a third party in a public area or received as an unsolicited communication.

Harassing Material

The University policy on sexual and racial harassment covers material propagated via its computer systems. If you have concerns in this area, you should contact the Student Advisors in the Guild if you are a student, and Human Resources if you are a member of staff.

Web Material

Web pages have a high profile and misuse by authors at A.U, whether deliberate or accidental, is a serious matter. It should be borne in mind that publishing material on a Web site is seen at law as equivalent to conventional paper-based publishing; for example the laws of libel and copyright extend to such material.

Making a Complaint

If you feel you have been offended or felt threatened by, or otherwise are unhappy with, any computer based material or communication originating at A.U then:

  • You should normally email the details with any supporting evidence to abuse@aber.ac.uk
  • If you are a student  you can also raise the matter with either your tutor or the Dean of your faculty.
  • If you are a member of staff  you can also raise the matter with either your Head of Department or any member of staff of your choice.
  • If you are external to A.U. you can directly contact one of the members of I.S. staff noted below, though an email to abuse@aber.ac.uk is often preferable as this immediately provides a written record of the complaint and supporting material can be attached.

A.U procedures once a complaint has been received

The nominated A.U contact will reply to the complainant within two working days confirming receipt of the complaint and identifying themselves and their position in the University, together with their direct email address and telephone number. The complainant will then be contacted again within three further working days with an initial report on the A.U response.

This response is likely to fall into one of three categories.

  1. If it is decided that the complaint is clearly justified steps will immediately be taken to prevent the user involved from continuing or repeating the activity causing offence while internal A.U. disciplinary procedures are invoked. This could for example involve removing Web pages or withdrawing the right to send email. The complainant will be informed that this is the course of action that has been undertaken.
     
  2. If it is decided that the complaint clearly cannot be supported the complainant will be informed of this together with the reasons, and be invited to comment on this decision and restate the complaint if you wish. No other action will be taken and the user identified in the complaint will not be involved in any way. (In deciding on whether to take further action, one important test will be whether a reasonable person would be offended or upset by encountering any particular piece of material; another whether any law may have been broken.)
     
  3. If the nature of the complaint is such that it raises issues that cannot immediately be resolved it will be necessary to seek further University and possibly legal opinion. As this can take some time, steps will be taken to ensure the activity complained of is suspended and not repeated until a decision is reached on how to proceed. Both the complainant and the user involved  will be informed that this is the course of action being taken. Depending on the final decision the complaint will either be upheld, in which case course (1) above will be followed, or not upheld, in which case course (2) will be followed and the user allowed to resumed the activity.

Dissatisfaction with Response

If a complainant feels that the complaint has not been dealt with acceptably they can contact:

  • Acting Director of Information Services 01970 62 2391

Images of Child Abuse

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 deals in detail with images of child abuse and what constitutes an offence. Specific guidance for A.U users in this area has been prepared and can be found here.