Nearly three quarters (73%) of 714 international female journalists surveyed in late 2020 said that they had experienced online violence in the course of their work – and 20% of them indicated that they had experienced offline attacks and abuse that they believed had been seeded online. This, according to research published by UNESCO and the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), which also found that: “Women journalists are both the primary targets of online violence and the first responders to it.”

Now, guidelines, tools and resources to monitor, record and address these actions are outlined in a guide commissioned by the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media and produced by researchers from ICFJ and the University of Sheffield. 

The report, Guidelines for monitoring online violence against female journalists, draws on the work of the authors: Prof. Julie Posetti, Dr. Diana Maynard, and Nabeelah Shabbi.

According to their discussion paper, The Chilling: Global trends in online violence against women journalists: “Media employers have made some progress in addressing gendered online violence against their journalists (primarily within the comments sections  of  their  websites),  but  the  journalism  safety  threats  posed  in  the  networked  social  media  environment,  and  the  risks  intersecting  with  disinformation  and  political  extremism  (particularly  on  the  far-right),  appear  to  be  either  poorly  understood  or  too  overwhelming  to  manage  in  many  cases.”

See Also: “Walk the talk: What key actors can do for the safety of female journalists online”  

The report highlights current inadequacies in monitoring, and identifies three primary issues: the lack of access to data, the lack of methodological consistency, and the lack of adequate monitoring.

“About 50% of the SDG indicators identified for measuring and monitoring the achievement of targets lack acceptable country coverage and agreed-upon methodologies,” and, to this end, the guide aims to: “Ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreement.”

The tool includes guidelines on monitoring for responders, as well as general monitoring guidelines, as set out below. 

General Monitoring Guidance

Record the threat/s (describe the type of threat [e.g., threat, death threat; threat of other physical monitoring violence; threat to harm others], attach a screen grab of evidence of the threat if relevant)

Identify the perpetrator/s (e.g., location [using geolocation information and other forensic techniques], username/handle, include any photographic or video evidence of the abuser if available, along with real name and affiliations where evident).

Conduct a risk-assessment for the suspected perpetrator/s (e.g., if they are identifiable as a person with criminal convictions or connections, or if they are associated with a State actor or political leader, the risk is heightened).

Identify the threat medium/vector/facilitators (e.g., social media, chat app, email, text message).

Identify and monitor any hashtags being used in connection with the abuse. Monitor targeted abuse across all the platforms where the journalist is present to help respond to pile-ons which extend the risk of offline harm.

Deploy network analysis and abuse monitoring and visualisation tools in order to understand connections between abusers, and to measure the speed and spread of attacks and pile-ons aimed at the journalist.

Deploy Natural Language Processing techniques, where the capability exists, to analyse the dominant abuse terms and tropes featured in abuse directed at the target to help determine the level of risk.

Indicate if the threat has been reported to law enforcement agencies and/or the company/platform facilitating the threat, and monitor progress of these responses.

Indicate if the incident has been reported to an intergovernmental alert system (e.g., Council of Europe Safety of Journalists Platform, OSCE Ministerial Council Decision No. 3 on the Safety of Journalists,59 UN Special Procedures) and monitor follow-up. 

See Also: The Chilling: What more can newsrooms do to combat gendered online violence?

A global methodology for global violations

The tool presents a set of 15 research-derived indicators for online violence escalation (with examples of manifestations and tailored monitoring guidance), a gendered online violence typology, and examples of violations mapped to international codes and standards.

A model template for recording digital violations against female journalists (which could also be adapted for other high risk targets) and instructions for its use is included, with mock entries to help guide implementation.

The tool also includes a comprehensive directory of resources and organisations providing assistance.

Download the guide here.


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