Impacts of Online Violence on Female Journalists.

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.