Universities have been warned they could face legal action over "woke snitching portals" for racial microaggressions, amid plans to report academics for avoiding eye contact.
Lawyers have told the prestigious Russell Group of 24 institutions that they risk infringing freedom of expression, after The Telegraph found six websites set up for students to denounce their lecturers.
Durham University’s ‘Report + Support’ site lists "not giving someone eye contact" and "constantly criticising and never praising" as potential offences. There is also a button to "anonymously report" individuals to campus authorities.
At St Andrews university, the ‘Report + Support’ site lists potential transgressions as backhanded compliments, avoiding or turning one’s back on certain people and asking a black person if they are wearing their natural hair.
The webpage, allowing students to file anonymous reports, notes: "Microaggressions are brief, everyday interactions that send denigrating messages to people, which are subtle and insidious, often leaving the victim confused, distressed and frustrated and the perpetrator oblivious of the offense they have caused."
Now, the Free Speech Union has written to university leaders warning such forums "will be open to challenge by students and academics" under new laws being introduced by the Government to combat campus cancel culture.
Lawyers for the union also urged 19 universities in the group to review their reporting tools for harassment, claiming that some make a "systemic error" by ignoring their legal duties to secure free expression.
Toby Young, general secretary of the Free Speech Union, said: "These woke snitching portals are much more widespread than most people think.
"The shocking thing is that most universities have just bought these portals off the shelf and have stuck them on their websites, along with some legally questionable guidance about what is and isn’t a reportable offence, without stopping to consider their legal duty to uphold free speech.
"This has left them vulnerable to legal challenge… and the Free Speech Union won’t hesitate to take action."
Prof Frank Furedi, a sociologist at Kent University, said: "Even in totalitarian societies, thought policing was a bit more hands off. What they were interested in is what you said, rather than these so-called hidden biases that you have."
It comes after Cambridge took down its microaggressions reporting site last month where dons could be flagged for raising an eyebrow, following a revolt on campus.
A Russell Group spokesman said: "Our universities have always protected the right to free speech and will continue to do so, while complying fully with laws around harassment and anti-extremism.
"That commitment was underlined recently with the publication of a statement of principles setting out how we protect free speech, which was backed by all members and welcomed by the Government."