This online violence against women journalists causes significant psychological harm – particularly when it is regular and sustained. In fact, mental health effects were the impacts most frequently identified by the women journalists interviewed, with a substantial number saying they had sought medical or psychological help or took time off work to recover. However, online violence isn’t contained within the digital world because it spills offline, causing physical harm as well as psychological injury. The impacts include increasing offline safety risks through targeted attacks that trigger mob reactions and digital security breaches. Our respondents described feeling physically unsafe due to online attacks, with some increasing their physical security in response, and others missing work due to concerns about online attacks jumping offline. The third most dominant emerging impact of online violence against women journalists is the professional toll it takes, with significant implications for diversity in and through the news media, not just for individual women’s careers.
There is also a pattern of victim-blaming associated with online violence against women journalists, which seeks to make the targets responsible for the violent and toxic behaviour of others. 78% of the female journalists we spoke to say they had complained to their employers about online attacks but the responses that they would receive were very unhelpful. They were no response at all, and gender-insensitive advice like “grow a thicker skin” and “toughen up” would hurt them alot. Others also reported being asked by their employers what they did to trigger the attack. The most frequently recorded response to online violence was self-censorship, followed by withdrawal from all social media interaction, and avoidance of audience engagement. This pattern of responding through avoidance was also evident in impacts on their reporting practice, affecting the stories and sources pursued, which can also be understood as a form of self-censorship that chills reporting. This indicates that online violence against women journalists is a global phenomenon and its slowly eroding the foundation of female journalism and undermining freedom of expression. Based on these findings, the Gender Tech Initiative has recommended to confront the problem of online violence against women journalists by empowering and equipping them with Digital safety skills to enable them stay online and pursue their careers.