A tool to block and mute online abuse of journalists

A tool to block and mute online abuse of journalists

While the internet has enabled journalists to report from around the world in real time, it has also exposed them to a barrage of online abuse, especially when reporting on politicised or contentious issues. The threats loom larger for women, the Thomson Reuters Foundation says launching its TRFilter – a tool to fight online abuse.

“In partnership with Google’s Jigsaw unit, we collaborated with journalists, activists and non-governmental organisations to explore how pioneering technology could reduce the impact of gender-based online violence. Together, we developed TRFilter, a web-based application that limits journalists’ exposure to abusive content, allowing them to block, mute or save comments at scale. It also allows the users to create reports to store or share with third parties as needed” the foundation says on its website.


The foundation’s CEO, Antonio Zappulla, says the tool allows journalists to document and manage online harassment and abuse on their social media channels while limiting their exposure to it.

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“TRFilter empowers the user to continue their critical reporting mission without suffering the psychological trauma associated with online abuse”, he wrote on Press Gazette presenting the filter that was launched earlier in May.

The filter is described as a free web application that syncs with the user’s social media accounts, automatically recognising and flagging harmful comments. It aims to limit journalists’ exposure to abusive content, allowing them to block, mute or save comments at scale. It also allows users to create reports to store or share with third parties as needed.


The filter is currently available for use on Twitter, with plans to expand to other social media platforms in the future.

Read Also:  BBC taking harassment of women journalists to the UN

Zappulla stresses that the foundation in partnership with both the Committee to Protect Journalists and Media Defence, have set up the Legal Network for Journalists at Risk that coordinates the different types of legal support currently offered to journalists and independent media outlets at risk. Specialist assistance offered through the network can range from urgent legal representation to ongoing support for the duration of a case.

”Journalists have long been targeted for truth-telling, but the methods deployed to silence independent reporting have broadened. Two sinister and distinct trends in harassment have emerged: the onslaught of online abuse targeting – in particular – women journalists, and the weaponisation of laws against media practitioners”, Zappulla writes.

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”Both are driven by malign influencers desperate to control an ever more valuable currency: the free flow of information. But increasingly it’s the person rather than the profession that’s under attack.”

Unesco survey

He refers to Unesco’s recent global survey of more than 900 women journalists in 125 countries showing that 73% had experienced online violence – from misogynistic harassment and digital security attacks to coordinated disinformation campaigns leveraging hate speech. A quarter of those journalists had received threats of physical violence, including rape and death threats.

”Online abuse is not ‘virtual’ abuse. The impact of sustained and orchestrated digital hate campaigns on an individual’s mental health, physical well-being, indeed their civil liberties, can be catastrophic, with discreditation, self-censorship and the permanent shutdown of independent reporting the latest casualties in the war on press freedom.”

Read Also:  Action to defend women journalists from online harassment

“Perpetrators of this harassment are acting in near total impunity. Left unchecked, critical reporting, a diverse representation of voices and the ability to interrogate authority is eradicated.”


”When journalists become the enemy of the powerful, their protections are destroyed. For as long as this coincides with a climate of impunity, they will continue to be attacked on the streets, in the courts and online.”

”Failure to protect our journalists is failure to protect the future of independent media. Countering the harassment they face is a moral imperative and must be a shared goal”, Zappulla writes.

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