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Online attacks on women journalists leading to ‘real world’ violence, report reveals

Posted on: November 27, 2020 by Mariella Brown

Online violence against women journalists is increasingly having offline consequences, a global survey by leading press freedom organisations has found.

Twenty percent of women journalists and media workers who participated in the survey reported being targeted with offline abuse and attacks that they believe are connected with online violence they had experienced.

Preliminary results from the survey run by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) saw over 1,200 responses pointing to a surge in rates of online violence against women journalists.

Nearly three-quarters (73%) of participants identifying as women have said they have experienced online abuse, harassment, threats and attacks.

The findings from UNESCO and ICFJ were released to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women this week.

Orchestrated attacks designed to silence journalists are often associated with online violence, the report says, and this has “deadly impacts” when online violence isn’t contained within the digital world.

Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia and prominent Indian journalist Gauri Lankesh were murdered for their work in 2017 having been the targets of prolific, gendered online attacks.

The Covid-19 pandemic has also exacerbated threats of violence, the IFCJ says, with 16 percent of women respondents saying online abuse and harassment was “much worse than normal”.

The report stated: “Online violence is the new frontline in journalism safety – and it’s particularly dangerous for women. They – just like women across society – experience higher levels of harassment, assault and abuse in their daily lives. Women journalists are also at much greater risk in the course of their work, especially on digital platforms. In the online environment, we see exponential attacks – at scale – on women journalists, particularly at the intersection of hate speech and disinformation. 

“Alarmingly, the risk extends to women journalists’ families, sources and audiences. Online attacks against women journalists are often accompanied by threats of harm to others connected to them, or those they interact with, as a means of extending the ‘chilling effect’ on their journalism.

“In combination, misogyny and online violence are a real threat to women’s participation in journalism and public communication in the digital age. It’s both a genuine gender equality struggle and a freedom of expression crisis that needs to be taken very seriously by all actors involved. We believe that collaborative, comprehensive, research-informed solutions are increasingly urgent.”

The findings echo reports from a panel debate on tackling online abuse held by the Society of Editors on Monday which heard how women journalists are disproportionately affected. The panel disclosed statistics from Amnesty International which revealed one in 14 tweets targeted at women journalists are abusive.

In the UK a National Committee for the Safety of Journalists has been established by the government in July with the plan of creating an Action Plan to tackle online abuse.