Trolls and threats: Online harassment of female journalists
The advent of social media has meant that the dissemination of hate has become as easy as a simple click.
Originally Published: Al Jazeera
Journalists are used to having to defend their work in the traditional sense, but the online harassment and trolling of reporters is now a professional hazard that has become something of a norm. The advent of social media has meant that the dissemination of hate has become as easy as a simple click, and the language is getting increasingly ugly and violent.
“I’ve been attacked as a communist operative, a CIA, every kind of word that you can think of for ugly, for animals, I mean you name it, it’s been thrown at me. As a journalist; I’m used to defending the work I do … but how do you respond when someone threatens you with rape? When someone wants you dead?” Maria Ressa told The Listening Post.
Ressa is the CEO of Rappler, a news website in the Philippines known for its critical coverage of President Rodrigo Duterte‘s government.
There are women who are attacked on social media, who are then attacked off social media. The threats can be online and then go offline. My colleague and good friend Gauri Lankesh was actually shot in September 2017 … She faced social media threats and she never used to take it seriously. But the fact is, she was killed.
While both men and women face harassment online, many female media professionals have to deal with the kind of hate comments men will never have to stomach, messages about their appearance, gender, and sexuality.
As Hannah Storm, director of the International News Safety Institute explains, women are three times more likely to receive online harassment than their male colleagues.
“You’re inundated with a barrage of hate, of vitriol. Words calling you thing like ‘prostitute’, or ‘whore’, or ‘hooker’, or somebody else’s sex slave; that they were gonna do things to you that are really sexually explicit. People are trying to shame female reporters into silence by calling them names, by undermining their reputation, and by trying to violate their role as journalists.”
A recent study by Trollbusters and the International Women’s Media Foundation found that around 40 percent of the female journalists they interviewed had stopped writing about stories they knew would be lightning rods for attacks.
Around 30 percent indicated they had considered leaving the journalistic profession altogether as a result of the effect online abuse had had on them.
But the effects are not just psychological or emotional. Sagarika Ghose, consulting editor at The Times of India, told us that harassment on the web has the potential to seep offline as well.
“There are women who are attacked on social media, who are then attacked off social media. The threats can be online and then go offline. My colleague and good friend, Gauri Lankesh, was actually shot in September 2017. Now, the reason why I take these Facebook and Twitter threats seriously is because, you know, this is exactly what happened to Gauri. She faced social media threats, and she never used to take it seriously. But the fact is, she was killed.”
Maria Ressa – CEO, Rappler
Sagarika Ghose – Consulting editor, The Times of India
Hannah Storm – Director, International News Safety Institute