AMMREN BlogOnline violence, fueled by disinformation and political attacks, deeply harms women journalists

December 21, 2020by ammren_admin

This research was co-written by Julie Posetti, Nermine Aboulez, Kalina Bontcheva, Jackie Harrison and Silvio Waisbord.

An alarmingly high number of women journalists are now targets of online attacks associated with orchestrated digital disinformation campaigns. The impacts include self-censorship, retreat from visibility, an increased risk of physical injury, and a serious mental health toll. The main perpetrators? Anonymous trolls and political actors.

These findings are among the first released in a survey conducted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) on online violence against women journalists. They paint a global picture of the deeply entrenched nature of gendered abuse, harassment and sexualized attacks against women journalists, along with the obstacles to effective solutions. 

The survey, which is the most comprehensive and geographically diverse survey ever undertaken on the theme of online violence, was offered in five languages and received responses from 714 women journalists across 113 countries. It is part of a broader UNESCO-commissioned study to examine online violence in 15 countries, with an emphasis on intersectional experiences and the Global South.

The women journalists surveyed said they had been subjected to a wide range of online violence, including threats of sexual assault and physical violence, abusive language, harassing private messages, threats to damage their professional or personal reputations, digital security attacks, misrepresentation via manipulated images and financial threats. 

These methods of attack are growing more sophisticated and evolving with technology. They are also increasingly associated with orchestrated attacks fueled by disinformation tactics designed to silence journalists. This points to the need for responses to online violence to grow equally in technological sophistication and collaborative coordination.