Women still bear greatest brunt of online harassment, World Press Freedom summit told
Female journalists are more visible than ever in the digital era making them easy targets for online harassment, the World Press Freedom Day summit was told on Wednesday.
Speaking during the summit in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, BBC’s head of news gathering Jonathan Munro said:
“Women have been and still are the main targets of online abuse and harassment often times because of their gender.”
According to him, freedom of the Press is compromised when journalists are attacked online and instead of respectful criticism, hostile rhetoric takes precedence.
Munro noted how disinformation and propaganda posted on social media can instantly be shared making it go viral without authentication either by users or owners of the platform.
Similar sentiments from Jacqueline Ondimu, a lecturer from Moi University in Kenya, were noted during her presentation Online Threats Against Women Journalists in Kenya: Adequacy of cyber security laws and policies.
“Women bear the brunt of online harassment in Kenya…Sexualised hate speech is the one of the most widely used form of online harassment to damage the reputation of journalists. Others are edited photos and graphics, trending hashtags and body shaming tactics,” she said.
Ondimu added that the law in Kenya is vague as it shifts the burden of proof on the victim and does not envisage online harassment.
Munro from the BBC had earlier recognised that few countries such as the U.K. have laws that effectively deal with perpetrators which contributes to lack of victims reporting the issue.
Ondimu concluded by stating that in Kenya, the abuse is often carried out by known bloggers who constantly attack female journalists; some, she added, use anonymous identities.
The situation in Uganda is similar to that of Kenya, with journalist Patricia Kevine Litho reiterating the need to rethink safety of online spaces for women to continue working in newsrooms.
Nnenna Nwakanma from Nigeria, who is a former UN internet and governance specialist and now policy director for the World Wide Web Foundation posed:
“A female journalist covers a topic and publishes.. and instead of discussing the issue, people want to talk about the looks of the journalist herself.”
“An attack on me, is an attack on you, is an attack on us all” an African #WPFD2019 delegate tells @UNESCO’s online harassment lab, “We must raise our voices together. Because if they come for me, next they will come for you” 👏👏👏👏 (sound familiar, @mariaressa?)
— Dr. Julie Posetti (@julieposetti) May 1, 2019
DIGITAL THREATS NOT TAKEN SERIOUSLY
Ethiopian journalist Hadra Ahmed said previously, women journalists feared physical attacks under a repressive government and online threats are an extension of this.
She cited cases where digital threats of rape were not taken acknowledged as serious and explained how women journalists are particularly targeted when they criticise government officials or police.
During a forum on Online Harassment on Wednesday, cases of threats on female journalists in Cameroon, South Sudan, Philippines, Turkey, India, Colombia, Pakistan, Brazil, Serbia, Belarus, Yemen and other countries around the world were also highlighted.
Some of the female journalists intimated that they had received rape or death threats online, borne the brunt of hate campaigns through sponsored hashtags and even had their social media accounts hacked.
This saw some lose their jobs, seek protection from private bodyguards for themselves and their families or seek asylum in countries abroad.
Ethiopian journalist Hadra Ahmed says previously women journalists in Ethiopia feared physical attacks under a repressive government but now the threats are also online. However, these new digital threats of rape are not taken seriously by the authorities, she says #WPFD2019 pic.twitter.com/VhcP70ROFD
— Julie Posetti (@julieposetti) May 1, 2019
In Pakistan and Nepal, speakers noted that the first response of a female journalist who is under attack is often feelings of embarrassment.
“A woman who ‘disobeys’ traditional gender roles becomes an easy target for online harassment. There is also a culture of shame within women in the newsroom. Rarely do they report incidents of online harassment.
“They either quit, drop stories where their sources are the abusers, ignore or stay offline when they do not know how to act or they ultimately deactivate their social media accounts,” Rabia Noor, an international award-winning broadcast journalist said.
Women journalists are at the forefront of facing online abuse. Ahead of World Press Freedom Day we present to you statistics from our study "Fostering Open Spaces in Pakistan- combating gender specific threats to women's activism online".@NWJDR#PressFreedom #WPFD2019 pic.twitter.com/vOGEKAuy3p
— Digital Rights Foundation (@DigitalRightsPK) May 1, 2019
SAFE NEWSROOMS FOR WOMEN
Ingrid Brudvig from the Web Foundation noted that in most newsrooms, women are outnumbered by men.
This to her means that the topic of access to the internet is important begging the question “Who has access?” as it determines the architecture of voices heard on the public domain.
“Media and information literacy should be incorporated in all education; uphold public access to information and fundamental freedoms, ensure safety of journalists,” Brudvig said.
On her part, Samiksha Koirala who presented her study Online Harassment and Nepali Women Journalists, revealed that she only realised that she had been a victim after she left the newsroom to pursue her doctoral degree.
According to her, some women may not even realise that online attacks targeted towards them are a form of harassment punishable by law.
Happy to hear @mchakchouk of @UNESCO emphasize the importance of equipping people (individuals) with media/digital literacy, critical thinking skills to enable them to factcheck claims made in public by themselves. Glad that @AfricaCheck continues on this path. #WPFD2019 pic.twitter.com/tKfPx8hsRg
— Alphonce Shiundu (@Shiundu) May 1, 2019
Silvia Chocarro, who works with Centre for Freedom of the Media, said women are vulnerable not only to attack from those who want to silence their work but also from sources, colleagues and to discrimination in newsrooms.
“Newsrooms must be a safe place for journalists both men and women. There’s need for gender & anti-harassment policies in the newsroom, digital safety trainings, gender sensitive networks as well as more research on these issues,” she said.
RATIO OF MEN TO WOMEN IN THE NEWSROOM
A case study from the Guardian newspaper revealed that three years ago, 70percent of opinion editorial writers were white men.
Becky Gardiner noted that 30percent of women suffered the most vile online abuse, along with the two black male writers.
She acknowledged that training and commitment to transformation had led to change in online interaction with journalists at the Guardian.
Other speakers called on partnership with global media advocacy and humanitarian firms to train women on their online safety and digital rights as well as push governments to enact laws that recognise online harassment as a crime so that attackers are prosecuted.
— PEN America (@PENamerican) April 30, 2019
Rachel Ombaka is a Digital Sub Editor for the Citizen TV website. She is also a Women in News member, Pen America Fellow 2019 and a panelist for the upcoming Africa Women in Media (AWiM) conference to be held in Nairobi on July 25-27.
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