A new book, Mediating Misogyny: Gender, Technology and Harassment, features a chapter from TrollBusters founder Dr. Michelle Ferrier about her efforts to curtail online abuse of women journalists. Co-authored with Dr. Nisha Garud, assistant journalism professor at San Jose State University, the piece focuses on the impacts of online abuse on individual journalists and news-gathering, reporting and engagement processes.
The chapter describes a “chilling effect” that happens when groups such as trolls on social media platforms make it difficult for others to exert their rights to freedom of expression. When pressure through online harassment is applied to silence individual journalists, the “chilling effect” extends to the free press as a whole.
“The chilling effect on individual journalists and journalistic lines of inquiry can lead to the silencing of diverse voices in the media, the technological takedown of a media site, or the abandonment of a line of investigative inquiry,“ the authors write.
They note that online harassment mimics the patterns of oppression and power differentials in the real world, disproportionately harming and silencing women, and ethnic and religious minorities. The problem is intensified by the requirement that journalists “bring their authentic, real identities to their digital work.” The chapter cites data from a 2013 study by the International Women’s Media Foundation that found that ⅔ of the 149 female journalists they surveyed had been the victims of work-related threats or abuse.
Furthermore, the authors write, “Women journalists often are the targets of some of the most severe forms of online harassment such as rape threats, death threats and hate speech.”
Ferrier, an associate professor at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, is currently working with international partners to expand the International Women’s Media Foundation 2015 survey work. Journalists are invited to complete the 2018 survey.
The chapter offers steps female journalists can take to prevent online attacks. Among them:
- Decide whether to use your real name or a pseudonym in your professional endeavors. If you use your real name, trolls can use it to find your physical address and family members.
- Create separate social media accounts for your personal and professional endeavors.
- Remove your address and other personal information from aggregator sites.
- Communicate securely through encrypted channels such as Signal (not through email) with your sources.
- Use the Tor browser for privacy.
- Learn self-defense, even if you aren’t reporting on what you would consider dangerous assignments.
- Report any attacks you do experience to management, friends, colleagues and the police.