Eariler this week I came across a fantastic example of using company accounts in journalism: Guardian media editor Jim Waterson‘s article on how the family that founded the sex-worker social media platform OnlyFans “extracted tens of millions of pounds from its parent company in the last year”.
“The objective is to normalize discussions about online harassment in the newsroom,” they say. “An important step toward a creating a culture of safety. Journalists should feel comfortable coming forward with their experiences and concerns.”
This is especially important in election weeks: the IPI suggest that discussions about online abuse should be more frequent during politically tense periods or ahead of elections.
If the outlet you use for student journalism has its own style guide or guidelines, you can also add a section about online abuse that outlines what they should do when it happens, and resources they can draw on, such as this Trollbusters infographic on actions to take regarding a range of threats, and those listed below.
2. Include online abuse in risk assessments
Journalists and journalism students are often required to complete risk assessments ahead of certain newsgathering activity, such as filming on location.
Teaching on risk assessment can include these dimensions and point to those resources. It might be explained that risk factors include the nature of the story being covered: those relating to gender, ethnicity, immigration, extremism, disinformation, and other topics where there are strong feelings are likely to be higher risk than others.
This is also a good opportunity to talk about the risk factors related to the journalist’s own gender, ethnicity and sexuality, and how those aren’t limited to the online world: 73% of UNESCO research (PDF) respondents identifying as women said they had experienced online violence, and one in five said that abuse had moved offline.
3. Cover both sides of harassment in media law…
Harassment laws (or dimensions of industry codes) have become increasingly used against journalists — but journalists are also increasingly having to report harassment under the same laws. Media law classes on privacy, harassment, and malicious communications can address the law both as something to consider when reporting, and something that the reporter and their employer can draw on themselves.
This year I extended that teaching to talk about personal information security in the context of online abuse as well.
PEN America‘s Online Harassment Field Manual compiles “strategies to protect and arm yourself before you become the target of abuse, with an emphasis on tightening your cybersecurity and establishing supportive online communities who will have your back”, addressing a number of tactics used by online abusers, from doxxing and impersonation to hacking. Feminist Frequency also provides a guide to online safety.
The Data Detox Kit also outlines “steps you can take to control your digital privacy, security, and wellbeing in ways that feel right to you.”
5. Include guidelines in classes on writing for social media
Social media is the main space where online abuse takes place, so classes on writing for those platforms, and related skills such as community management (the IPI has a whole section on audience moderation), are an obvious place to address some of the techniques for dealing with online abuse.
One of those techniques, for example, is to “flood social media with positive posts about the work of colleagues to drown out any abuse they may be facing”.
“Keep work and personal social media accounts separate
“Use strict settings to filter out trolls — block, ignore and mute personal attacks
“Switch off outside office hours
“If the accuracy of a story is being called into question and you choose to respond, remain factual — but don’t expect to have the last word, as you can never win a ‘Twitter spat’
“Differentiate between attacks (personal) and criticism (on journalistic grounds)
“Document and threats or abuse
“Report abuse to management and use internal processes that are in place
“Speak about it with family, friends or colleagues to “take a bit of the heat out”
“Do things you enjoy outside work
“Remember abuse is never about your ability
“Take time away from social media if necessary and ask for an editor’s support to do so
“Know it is okay to be upset and that abuse is not acceptable and should not be part of the job.”
The International Women’s Media Federation (IWMF) has a Know your trolls course which can also be incorporated into social media training.
6. Organise a screening of A Dark Place
Earlier this month I organised a screening and Q&A around the one-hour documentary A Dark Place, which highlights “the experiences of female journalists who have been targeted by online harassment”.
It’s a must-see documentary, not least in understanding the gendered dimension of online violence, as outlined in a recent UNESCO report:
“Women journalists are both the primary targets of online violence and the first responders to it.
“Misogyny is one of the key features of online violence targeting women journalists, and it has been routinised … In detail and delivery, the threats are personal [and] they are often highly sexualised.”
7. Ask guest speakers about how they handle online abuse
There is a good chance that a planned guest speaker will have had to deal with some form of online abuse themselves. If you feel that this might be relevant or valuable to students it may be worth asking the speaker in advance if this is the case and if they are willing to talk about that as part of the session.
Hearing respected industry figures talk about online abuse makes the topic more concrete and manageable, while helping students to put it into the context of industry practice, support systems, and ongoing developments.
8. Include online abuse as a critical issue in academic classes
Most journalism courses require students to study the critical issues surrounding the profession. Online abuse — either on its own or alongside related issues such as misinformation, privacy, social media, diversity and/or propaganda — is a strong candidate to be included as one of those. Resources you can draw on and point students to include: