Publication Date: January 2020
Research and Editorial Team: Autumn Slaughter, Elana Newman

Online harassment refers to unwanted verbal or nonverbal behaviour that occurs online and which violates the dignity of a person, creating a hostile environment. It can take many forms, such as impersonation, doxing, technical attacks and trolling.

Many studies analyse the phenomenon of online harassment targeted against journalists. Women journalists are particularly vulnerable to it. As revealed in a study of Twitter accounts mentioned in the report, women television journalists are three times more likely to receive harassing tweets than their male counterparts.

The effects of online harassment against journalists are many. Physical symptoms include tension headaches, insomnia and panic attacks; emotional symptoms comprise the journalists’ fear to leave their homes; cognitive and behavioural responses can lead to the disablement of comments, the erasure of personal data and in general a more restricted behaviour on social media. Finally, online harassment might also lead to leaving the profession.

TrollBusters, an organisation created with the aim of reducing harm caused by online harassment, identifies strategies to deal with it. In cases of threats, it is important to document the number of threats received and their details. In cases of implied threats, the organisation recommends blocking the account and reporting the incident. In cases of doxing, the incident should be reported to the police.

Although it might be an effective way of coping with it, ignoring online harassment is inadequate in those instances when harassers are attempting to silence their victims. Instead of simply ignoring this, journalists may benefit by seeking general social support. The support from colleagues is essential, and can take the form of supporting the journalists publicly by writing encouraging comments on their social media pages.

Legal remedies are in development, and OSCE recommends a legal approach that should apply current harassment laws to online contexts.

In conclusion, when journalists engage in behaviours that reduce audience engagement or abandon certain lines of investigation, online harassment becomes a press freedom issue.

Tags: Safety of journalists Harassment Digital safety Media and gender

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