Women have long been outnumbered in journalism worldwide. Now, in addition to discriminatory hiring practices and other barriers, personal attacks in online comments, social media posts, emails and more, represent a serious threat to diversity. Because of online harassment, several studies show that women journalists experience depression and anxiety, avoid engaging with readers, reporting on certain topics, or say they consider leaving journalism altogether.
Nearly two-thirds of female journalists surveyed by TrollBusters and the International Women’s Media Foundation in 2018 said they had experienced online harassment. Though media contexts differ, there are many similarities to how harassment is experienced worldwide. True everywhere, is that attackers are rarely held accountable – whether they are individuals acting alone or as part of orchestrated attacks by governments or groups who weaponize social media. What is worse, people in positions of authority often encourage an escalation of attacks.
A 2018 report by Reporters without Borders on the online harassment of journalists worldwide, documents many such cases, including that of Maria Ressa, the founder and executive editor of the news website Rappler in the Philippines. In the context of government attacks on Rappler’s reporting, Ressa says she regularly receives online threats of rape, murder and arrest in social media. She has made a point of publicly exposing attackers and refusing to be silenced.
Even in countries that are relatively safe for journalists or where free speech is protected, receiving hateful comments is the norm for many female journalists, whether they cover sports, fashion or politics. An analysis of 70 million reader comments on The Guardian newspaper from 2006-2016 shows that articles written by female journalists saw a higher proportion of comments rejected by moderators, especially in news sections with a high concentration of male writers, like “Sport” or “Technology”.