A global survey of over 600 women journalists and media workers reveals that while journalism is under threat around the world, online misogynistic attacks against women in the media field, in particular, have escalated.
Published in September by the International Women’s Media Foundation and Troll-Busters.com, a service for women journalists who are targets of online harassment, the survey found that 90 percent of respondents say online threats have increased over the last five years.
“…different actors are using physical and social media strategies against women journalists and media workers to intimidate, sow disinformation, discredit the journalist and the news media, and create significant professional harm,” the report says. “This hostile environment is a direct attack on freedom of expression worldwide with the intent to silence women’s voices and the stories they tell.”
About half of the respondents work in the United States and half abroad. Nearly two out of three respondents said they’d been threatened or harassed online at least once — slightly more than those who reported physical threats or harassment. Twenty-six percent indicated they had been physically attacked, and one in 10 respondents has experienced a death threat in the past year.
Among women who work outside the U.S., 68 percent indicated that gender was the main factor in their attacks — both online and off. Seventy-eight percent of U.S.-based journalists believed the same.
Nearly 30 percent of all respondents indicated the threats and attacks they received made them consider leaving the profession. Nearly 40 percent reported engaging in self-censorship like avoiding reporting on certain topics after being threatened on or offline, and others said they avoided social media—an indispensable tool in the news industry—after a barrage of threats.
Most did not report the incidents they experienced to their superiors or law enforcement, usually out of fear they wouldn’t be taken seriously, or even worse, that they would be punished.
“As a freelancer, I have not reported harassment/assault that I’ve experienced when working on stories,” wrote one respondent, “because I am afraid of not getting support from editors far away or losing the gig or the possibility of covering a topic because they don’t think it is safe for me to work it. Or sometimes, I think... What is the point?”
Respondents overwhelmingly suggested that organizations establish a protocol for educating and addressing harassment and that their claims be thoroughly investigated by management, law enforcement, social media platforms, and others.