Online Course Helps Women Journalists Fend Off Harassment

By Sophie Dorf-Kamienny | Originally Published: Ms. Magazine

“These are basic steps you can take as a journalist to help manage your online profile and to help take back the amount of information that’s on the internet about you.”

Online Course Helps Women Journalists Fend Off Harassment

A new course teaches women journalists how to protect themselves against professional harm and fight online harassment. (Paul Saad / Flickr)

Ten percent of women journalists had received death threats within one year of a global survey—a statistic that likely isn’t shocking to the nearly two-thirds of women journalists already facing threats or harassment online.

“My reputation and my life were being threatened. I didn’t feel as if my newspaper had my back,” an anonymous columnist said in the same 2018 report from the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF), referencing racist attacks against her which went unaddressed.

The comprehensive study on journalist harassment was the result of a partnership between IWMF and TrollBusters, and looked to counteract the professional dangers female reporters face.

The report prompted action: a month-long virtual course titled “Online Harassment: Strategies for Journalists’ Defense,” providing journalists, specifically women, with harassment response strategies and support networks.

IWMF and the University of Texas at Austin’s Knight Center ran the course globally from Nov. 16 to Dec. 13, and it is now available permanently at this link.

“The idea is that we build techniques that journalists can use and these will be practical steps that people can take. It’s not just a focus on digital security; that sounds like a big scary word,” said lead instructor Ela Stapley. “These are really just basic steps you can take as a journalist to help manage your online profile and to help take back the amount of information that’s on the internet about you.”

The MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), covers plenty of ground in just four weeks, beginning with a broad introduction and concluding with digital protection resources.

Instructors emphasize measures that can be taken preventatively, by victims themselves—since the IWMF survey found 56 percent of respondents didn’t trust their institutions to effectively handle reported threats. Freelance reporters felt especially vulnerable and isolated in their trauma.

“I’ve started to think about what it means to be a freelance female journalist on a whole other level. You associate it with being something dangerous and risky, but the risks are around us in ways that we don’t actually know yet,” said Liana Aghajanian, an international freelance reporter, in the Columbia Journalism Review.

For others feeling alone or unheard, Stapley’s module is particularly useful, teaching participants how to analyze their perpetrators and acquire necessary documentation. In week two, Catherine Gicheru teaches internet privacy measures.

“We’re pleased to be partnering with IWMF on this important course, which is led by a stellar team of instructors who will bring a global perspective to their teachings,” said the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas associate director Mallary Tenore.

“This course will offer valuable pointers for journalists who have experienced online harassment firsthand, those who want to better protect themselves online, and those who want to support others who are dealing with these issues. Our hope is that students in this course will come away with practical strategies that they can implement to feel safer on the job.”