How media outlets can support journalists facing online abuse

Many journalists have to maintain an online presence as part of their work in order to find sources, conduct research and promote their stories. But maintaining a public presence online opens journalists up to criticism that can turn into harassment or abuse. This is especially true for women journalists and journalists from marginalised groups who might be targeted because of their identities rather than their work.

Journalists should not have to face these attacks alone; their employers are in a position to help them avoid attacks where possible and provide support in the event that a journalist is targeted. Media outlets should have established guidelines in place to safeguard their journalists from harassment and abuse. Below are a few recommendations of steps media organisations can take to set up such protocols:

1: Assess the risks of online abuse targeting your journalists

When assigning a journalist to cover a story, make sure to consider the risks of the journalist being targeted by online abuse by working on the story. It is important to keep in mind that women journalists and journalists from marginalised groups are far more likely to become targets of online harassment. That doesn’t mean they should be disqualified from covering a particular story, but it does mean you need to understand what they might face so that you can help safeguard them  while they are  working on the story and after the story is published.
Remember: It should not be the journalists’ responsibility to ensure a safe environment for their work.

2: Help journalists secure their personal data

To minimise the risk of attacks on women journalists and journalists from marginalised groups, employers need to advise journalists on how to secure their data and avoid online attacks. Journalists risk that personal information, such as their address, information about their family, date of birth, etc, could be used to attack them. Media outlets should advise journalists on how to avoid revealing sensitive and personal information to safeguard them from digital attacks.
Remember: Journalists should never risk having their personal data used against them. 

3: Media outlets need to be responsible for moderating hateful comments on their own platforms

Every media outlet should have a clear policy on how to moderate comments on their website and social media channels. Someone should be moderating comments on social media posts at all times, deleting hateful comments and reporting personal threats to the police. Comments sections should be turned off at the end of the day so that it does not go unmoderated.
Remember: Journalists should never see themselves vilified on their employer’s channels.

4: Make it possible for journalists to report attacks

Media outlets should have a clear policy in place to follow if and when a journalist is subjected to online abuse. First and foremost, journalists need to know where to go, who to report the attack to and how to report it. Secondly, employers should be prepared to offer moral and psychological support to the journalist who is attacked.
Remember: Journalists should never be alone in facing online abuse.

5: Offer a clear statement of support for the journalist

There is a high risk that a journalist who has been attacked online will feel isolated. It is the job of the  media outlet to show them your support, and unless the journalist discourages it,  you should make a public statement showing your full support for the journalist and take a strong stand against online abuse. 
Remember: Journalists facing online abuse deserve the full support of their employers.

6: Have a clear strategy for combating online harassment

Media outlets should have a clear strategy on how to prevent their staff from being affected by digital harassment and on how to respond if journalists are attacked. Employers should conduct an annual staff survey to assess how big of a problem online harassment is among journalists. This will also help employers to determine whether their actions are having an impact and are helping to combat the problem in their newsrooms.
Remember: Defeating online abuse requires a structured, holistic approach.

Read more

A Guide to Protecting Newsrooms and Journalists Against Online Violence – IWMF

The Chilling: what more can news organisations do to combat gendered online violence? – UNESCO Bibliothèque Numérique

Addressing gender-based attacks against journalists is a key recommendation from civil society in improving the implementation of the UN Plan of Action. Read more about the recommendations here.