UNESCO stands up against online harassment of women journalists

© UNESCO

Did you know that, for thousands of women journalists across the world, online harassment is a daily occurrence?

Did you know that women journalists face ever-increasing amounts of gender-based threats and attacks, simply for being women?

While the Internet is a valuable tool for journalists to acquire and disseminate information, it is also increasingly being utilized by sexist abusers to commit violence on an unprecedented scale. Insults, public shaming, intimidation, hacking and cyber-stalking are but a few of the types of behavior that women journalists are systematically confronted with on the Internet.

Faced with the growing ubiquity of online harassment, some women journalists are forced to restrict the scope of issues they report on in order to protect themselves, as a recent survey by Trollbusters and IWMF shows.

Beyond having a significant impact on their professional opportunities, online harassment also has profound emotional and physical consequences for women journalists. Too many experience long-lasting fear, anxiety and trauma.

“I just refuse to let intimidation win,” said Maria Ressa, CEO of Philippine-based Rappler when she was a target of a smear campaign in 2016. Ms Ressa’s newspaper uncovered a network of political “trolls” to influence public opinion and generate disinformation. Her investigation cost her multiple online threats of rape and murder. Yet, she responded to attacks with more investigative reporting against to uncover the identity of her online harassers (see more here).

The global escalation in gender-based violence in the field of journalism is of urgent concern. In 2016 The Guardian studied 70 million comments posted on its website. The survey showed that eight of its 10 journalists most targeted by hate comments were women. Attacks against female journalists pose a clear threat not only to their safety and well-being, but also to the diversity of the press and to freedom of expression. In addition to disproportionately affecting women, online harassment often follows other multi-layered and intersecting patterns of discrimination, including racism, homophobia, and xenophobia.

Meaningful dialogue and concerted efforts between a range of actors are necessary to address these challenges effectively. It is with this aim in mind that UNESCO is organizing, together with Member States from the Group for the Safety of Journalists at UNESCO, a conference to tackle the online harassment of women journalists. Titled “Standing up against online harassment of women journalists – What works?“, the event will take place on 18 June 2019 at UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris. Discussions will feature a range of prominent women journalists coming from Canada, the Netherlands, Denmark and Nigeria. Experts from Twitter, The Guardian and Libération, as well as prosecutors and lawyers dealing with cases of online harassment, will also contribute to the discussions.

Moderated by France 24 journalist Nadia Massih, the talks will shed light on the perspectives of women journalists on online harassment as well as on practical and legal measures that could be formulated to both alleviate the effects of online harassment and prevent hate from being spread by abusers.

Read the concept note and draft programme

Date: 18 June 2019

Time: 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Where: UNESCO, HQ Paris. Room IV (Entrance: 125 Avenue de Suffren)

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