We have to recognise that the problem of online violence is transnational, and operates in the context of huge and profitable technology companies. Online violence has become the new frontline in journalism safety – and women journalists sit at the epicentre of risk, a global study shows. It is produced by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) under commission of UNESCO.
“Threats of sexual violence and murder are frequent and sometimes extended to their families. This phenomenon is also bound up with the rise of viral disinformation, digital conspiracy networks and political polarisation.”
Misogynistic abuse and threats is not only damaging women working in media, it is also meant to “undercut public trust in critical journalism and facts in general”.
“The psychological, physical, professional, and digital safety and security impacts associated with this escalating freedom of expression and gender equality crisis are overlapping, converging and frequently inseparable. They are also increasingly spilling offline, sometimes with devastating consequences.”
“The chilling effect Online violence against women journalists is designed to: belittle, humiliate, and shame; induce fear, silence, and retreat; discredit them professionally, undermining accountability journalism and trust in facts; and chill their active participation (along with that of their sources, colleagues and audiences) in public debate.”
“This amounts to an attack on democratic deliberation and media freedom, encompassing the public’s right to access information, and it cannot afford to be normalised or tolerated as an inevitable aspect of online discourse, nor contemporary audience-engaged journalism.”
The report concludes that social media platforms are the main forum for online violence against women, and have “so far failed to respond quickly or effectively to the crisis”.
“Central to this failure is an attempt to use “free speech” as a shield against accountability, and a continuing reluctance to assume responsibility for the content on their sites.”
Their policies mean that women are left to be first responders to the growing levels of violence against them. “They are the ones required to ‘report’, ‘block’, ‘mute’, ‘delete’, and ‘restrict’ their attackers, potentially compounding the effects of the abuse, and creating unbearable pressures when the attacks come at scale.”
Among actions, the report says investments is needed in genuinely independent research into the fast-moving nature and scale of online violence and social media company responses, addressing new platforms (including those providing entertainment and gaming services) and coordinated cross-platform trolling.