Student press are increasingly under attack from coordinated external groups seeking to target an individual journalist or fracture an already contentious campus atmosphere. Gershon Harrell of the KentWired.com reports in April 2018 that Madison Newingham, a liberal political activist and junior double majoring in political science and history, drew the attention of internet trolls for her columns in The Kent Stater.
Figure 1. Madison Newingham leads a pro-choice rally.
“People would call me an idiot and stupid and a lot more vulgar words,” Newingham said in the KentStater. “I was appalled. I had no idea people would attack my character because of my beliefs.”
Harrell reports that female students and students of color were most attacked at Kent State. Newingham recalls her time at The Kent Stater, where most of her trolls were younger men or “baby boomer men.”
“I wrote an article about sexual assault and one guy literally told me he hopes I was assaulted,” Newingham said. “I was kind of like, ‘Ha! Jokes on you, I was!’”
Newingham says she became uncomfortable speaking in public and stayed off campus as much as she could.
Encountering these online attacks early may derail these young journalists from their career paths. Many rethink their professional paths, choosing strategic communication, public relations, or other communication fields where they can limit public exposure.
What Students and Educators Can Do
- Students should think about how they use social media and consider changing their names or setting up separate professional accounts as they move on through the profession.
- Set up separate phone lines for professional and personal calls. Same with email.
- Get your own domain name. Set up a website. Make sure your name is the top result/first page on search engines.
- Use a post office box to remove a physical footprint to your doorstep.
- Set up privacy protections on any domain names you own.