It should not be a surprise — albeit it is a great disappointment — that sexism and racism are still alive and well.

The real surprise is that we continue to be surprised by it.

If you’ve been anywhere online, particularly on social media, you know there are some places where these two forms of hate (and far too many other varieties) overcome any type of respectful discourse.

In fact, two years ago the Pew Research Center said this in its report:

Harassment—from garden-variety name calling to more threatening behavior— is a common part of online life that colors the experiences of many web users. Fully 73% of adult internet users have seen someone be harassed in some way online and 40% have personally experienced it.

We know this is more than just numbers, it’s people getting hurt. The most vicious of these attacks, the Pew study said, are against women.

Some of these haters make headlines: The latest one is about comedian and actress Leslie Jones (detailed very well by writer Deborah Douglas in this Vice article) and how she was hacked on social media. But these attacks are not unique to celebrities. In fact, it happens everyday to people or organizations doing great work. And it is more likely to happen to young women, very often the ones hired to do social media.

Does this mean you need to get off the platforms and turn off all digital?

No. It does not. I have a hopeful heart. The first job for my backordered magic wand is to change the hearts and minds of those who are mired in hate. But until it arrives or until I see a change in our discourse, I rely on my practical side, which tells me: Be prepared.

It is what we teach people in all our Public Narrative classes on social media be they journalists, nonprofits, academics or neighborhood and community people, who all deal with key issues that often are controversial. Everything we do is strategic and promotes effective use of your time — even if it calls for time investment up front, which can often seem onerous on a busy day, no?

It’s crucial to think ahead. Often our social media is an afterthought. We glance at Twitter, throw up a Facebook post and maybe share a picture on Instagram. Check off your daily social media. Is this work really a good use of your staff’s time? Are they thinking of next steps on your social media and what to do in a crisis?

In one of our workshops, we walk people through a two-page social media policy, designed to get people to think about content and controversy.

The questions include:

  • What is your tone of voice?
  • What do we not discuss?
  • How will you respond if someone respectfully disagrees?
  • If they rudely disagree?
  • Imagine what a crisis looks like for your organization.

These are things that everyone who has access to your social media accounts should answer, as well as the top brass even if they are not involved in social media. They, too, need to be prepared and to support the staff that is on the social media front lines.

Being prepared also means you are taking back some of the power that your detractors are trying to take away from you. Even if your choice is to not respond, it’s your choice. And it’s one you thought out before you walked into a fully charged moment.

Remember, social media is your organization’s public face, so let’s get strategic about our future and our safety.

Susy Schultz, president of Public Narrative, is also one of our trainers. At Public Narrative our courses are designed to make sure you and your organization are strategic, effective and stay safe in all your online communications. Sign up here.

Here’s a great article about the issue, filled with facts, figures and resources. It’s by Michele Weldon in Take the Lead.