Female Journalists are Prime Targets of Online Violence

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Female Journalists are Prime Targets of Online Violence
Female Journalists are the Prime Targets of Online Violence

Online violence against female journalists is one of the most serious global threats to press freedom and has contributed to female reporters being murdered. This information has been recorded by the newly published paper titled- The Chilling: A global study of online violence against women journalists .

The report is based on research by the International Centre for Journalists (ICFJ) and the University of Sheffield, which maps the online-offline violence trajectory, showing how digital harassment and threats beget offline attacks.

The report highlights the murder of Mexican journalist Maria Elena Ferral who denounced online harassment from the son of a city mayor before she was killed. The authors of the research report are Julie Posetti, Diana Maynard, Kalina Bontcheva, Nabeelah Shabbir and Nermine Aboulez.

The researchers interviewed over 1,000 female journalists in 15 countries and found that the vast majority of journalists who took part had suffered online abuse and threats.

They urged social media companies to overhaul algorithms that have been found to drive hate against women, and for perpetrators of gender-based online violence to be de-platformed and penalised.

The authors of The Chilling are calling for governments, as well as the news industry and the giant tech corporations, to do more to tackle what they say is “a crisis of online violence towards women journalists”.

This paper has been published with full support from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). It highlights how there has been a consecutive rise in the attacks on female journalists across the world.

Shockingly, female journalists are not just subjected to violence digitally but also face physical violence, verbal abuse and discrimination offline in their day-to-day working culture.

The report illuminates the evolving challenges faced by female journalists dealing with prolific and sustained online violence around the world.

It calls out “the victim-blaming and slut-shaming that perpetuates sexist and misogynistic responses to offline violence against women in the online environment, where patriarchal norms are being aggressively reinforced.”

Globally, the research found that nearly three-quarters of the female journalists surveyed had experienced online violence in the course of their work.

Threats of physical violence, including death threats, were identified by 25% and sexual violence by 18%. And 13% described threats of violence against those close to them, including children and infants.

Almost half, 48% of the female journalists surveyed reported being harassed with unwanted private social media messages.

Carole Cadwalladr, an award-winning investigative Guardian and Observer journalist, was one of the interviewees who exposed how personal data belonging to millions of Facebook users was secretly collected by British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, largely for political advertising.

The report states that Cadwalladr was the target of 10,400 separate instances of obvious abuse between December 2019 and January 2021. The abuse was highly gendered and designed to “humiliate, belittle and discredit” the journalist on both a personal and professional level.

Prof Kalina Bontcheva, senior researcher in the UK arm of the study, said: “Our report has found that we are now at a crisis point in the level of violence being directed towards women journalists“.

Professor Bontcheva further added, “The vast majority who took part in the study had suffered from online violence, so UK policymakers need to take urgent action now in order to protect the lives of those who are doing such an important job in society“.

The UK arm of the research found that online violence against female journalists is frequently associated with polarizing political debates, such as that surrounding Brexit and that the Covid pandemic has worsened the situation for female journalists.

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