The safety of journalists requires an intersectional approach, as women journalists face a different scale and nature of attacks online. According to the International Center for Journalists, 73% of female journalists surveyed experienced online violence, with 25% of the messages they received threatening physical violence and 18% threatening sexual violence.

In a bid to counter online violence against female journalists, the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe) Representative on Freedom of the Media (RFoM) presented guidelines for monitoring online violence against female journalists, which will provide a systematic and gender-sensitive monitoring system with the aim of better protecting women journalists and preventing online violence from escalating with some cases resulting in physical attacks.

During the launch of the report, speakers discussed concrete actions needed to empower women journalists and to ensure their safety in the online sphere. Teresa Ribeiro, of Portugal, the fifth Representative on Freedom of the Media said: “Gender-based online attacks against women journalists are to the detriment of us all, to every individual’s right to information, and the very fabric of our democratic societies.” She adds that: “gender-based online attacks deny women a public voice leading to self-censorship or even causing women to retreat from the public sphere as a result our societies are deprived of diverse information and inclusive public debates. These attacks are not random, they are often strategic and concerted efforts to silence journalists creating an enormous chilling effect on women’s voices and our democracies”.

The president of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, Pia Kauma, said that online attacks against women journalists are of concern as they will discourage young women from pursuing journalism as a career. Kauma stressed the importance of collective action in tackling gender-based online attacks. “[The guidelines] are an important tool to identify an escalation of online violence targeting women journalists. This is an issue of high interest for OSCE parliamentarians, as we strive to advance gender equality within our countries and the OSCE region as a whole. However effective solutions require strong cooperation at multiple levels. I am glad that the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media have developed over the years an excellent partnership on this topic. Actively sharing new tools, experiences, and lessons learned, is what can bring us closer to gender equality in the OSCE”.

The lead author, Julie Posetti, deputy vice president and global director of research at the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and professor of journalism at City University in London, presented the new guidelines together with the two other authors, Nabeelah Shabbir, freelance journalist and a senior research associate at ICFJ, and Diana Maynard, senior research fellow at the University of Sheffield. The tool includes a set of 15 research-derived indicators for online violence escalation, a gendered online violence typology, and examples of violations mapped to international codes and standards.

Posetti said that “impunity for gendered online violence needs to be understood as a series of acts that aid and abet impunity for crimes against female journalists and there is increasing evidence of a correlation and causal relationship between online threats towards female journalists and offline attacks. Gendered online violence can be a predictor of physical violence towards journalists including murder with impunity. Online violence is part of the enabling environment for the legal harassment and persecution of independent journalists. Online violence against female journalists must be mapped to human rights violations and be effectively monitored, recorded and transparently reported by those responsible for ensuring their safety and by them we mean states, big-tech companies, media employers, civil society organisations and inter-governmental organisations”.

Shabbir said that “psychological injury such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety is the most frequently identified impact of online violence affecting female journalists internationally according to the 2020 UNESCO ICFJ study”. Explaining that “psychological harm manifests physically, it has serious implications not only on a journalists health and well-being but on their relationships, professional development and economic security”. Shabbir emphasised the importance of monitoring online violence by starting with the basics, identifying the medium of the threat, perpetrator(s) and the hashtags.

The award-winning investigative journalist Inga Springe, co-founder of The Baltic Center for Investigative Journalism Re: Baltica, shared her personal experiences of online harassment. In 2019, a man started harassing Springe along with her colleagues, firstly he brought funeral flowers to her office and then continued to harass her on different social media platforms. Springe along with her colleagues repeatedly reported the man to the police, however, he was only arrested in 2021 after the police received pressure from other media organisations who had also reported the man for harassment.

Springe provided advice on what steps women need to take when being harassed.

  • Collect data (take screenshots of all communication),
  • Respond but only once stating that it is unwanted communication,
  • Report to the police that you feel threatened, and it is important to prove that unwanted attention is or was systematic
  • Get public support from local journalists.

She emphasised the importance and urgency of countering online violence against women, as an important step toward safeguarding democracy.

Click here, to read the report



Everything you need to know regarding journalism and media innovation in Africa – fortnightly in your inbox.