Online harassment hinders the ability of women journalists to carry out their journalistic activities, affects personal lives, and threatens their safety. Women journalists regularly encounter lack of support in their cases, and are advised to limit social media presence or worse – to get used to the attacks as being a part of their job. ARTICLE 19 Europe, the International Press Institute (IPI) and the Plataforma por La Libertad de Información (PLI) publish the following conclusions and recommendations on the obstacles to and good practices of investigating online harassment against women journalists.
Women journalists face a double-burden – they are at increased risk of violence for both reporting on matters affecting them and the public, and also for simply being women in the public sphere. While digital technologies have created new opportunities for women journalists to conduct their vital work and engage with their audience, the same technologies are also a space where patterns of abuse that women have long faced offline are reproduced and amplified.
In April 2022, under the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), ARTICLE 19 Europe, alongside IPI and PLI, co-hosted a multi-stakeholder roundtable discussion to identify the main obstacles for prompt and thorough investigations into cases of online harassment against women journalists in Spain, as well as to suggest possible ways to effectively respond to online attacks against women journalists. Participants included women journalists who had experienced online harassment, legal practitioners, prosecutors, and the judiciary. Although invited, social media companies did not attend the roundtable. They did, however, send their internal policies on addressing online harassment against women.
Online harassment – How to respond more effectively on harassment against women journalists?
During the roundtable discussion, we prepared five key recommendations that can serve as the basis to better respond to cases of online harassment against women journalists. We concluded the following:
Comprehensive legal and policy response to address online harassment against women should encompass measures stemming from broader legal framework, which includes civil, non-discrimination, or data protection laws.
State authorities should be trained on freedom of expression and non-discrimination standards to provide swift and adequate assistance for women who experience online harassment. The police officers flag that they have little guidance on how to proceed in such cases and have troubles in receiving necessary information from social media companies.
Social media companies should be more transparent in their cooperation with governments to improve the response to the illegal attacks that emerge on their platforms.
The Spanish government and the national human rights institution should carry out comprehensive research on online harassment, which should look into the human rights violations caused by and the impact of the online harassment women face in relation to their presence in the public sphere and their journalistic activities.
Media outlets and journalists’ associations should be more supportive in the light of online abuse endured by their female colleagues. The outlets and organisations should develop comprehensive policies, monitor cases of online abuse and respond to them.