Here are 8 ideas to help journalism students develop strategies for dealing with online abuse



Online abuses against journalists have become so common that a study this week recommends that journalism students need training to prepare for them.

But how do you integrate online abuse into journalism programs? Over the past year or so, I have tried to do just that – here are some ideas.

1. Learn About Online Abuse Today

Most journalism courses already have information days, so considering online abuse in briefings is an easy way to incorporate the topic into teaching without having to create new courses or materials.

The International Press Institute The (IPI) Online Program provides one of the most comprehensive resources to help news organizations deal with online harassment. He recommends talking about online abuse regularly in editorial meetings.

“The goal is to normalize discussions about online harassment in the newsroom,” they say. “An important step towards creating a culture of safety. Journalists should feel comfortable sharing their experiences and concerns. “

This is especially important during election weeks: the IPI suggests that discussions of online abuse be more frequent during times of political tension or before elections.

The Dart Center tip sheet

The Dart Center provides a tip sheet for journalists and newsroom managers on dealing with hate speech and harassment online, which is a great, broader place to start. Advice for colleagues can be fleshed out with PEN America’s Best practices for allies and spectators and the 5D framework for witness intervention: Distract, delegate, document, delay, and Direct.

If the medium you use for student journalism has its own style guide Where guidelines, you can also add a section on online abuse that describes what to do when it happens and what resources it can draw on, like this infographic from Trollbusters on what to do about a range of abuse. threats, and those listed below.

2. Include online abuse in risk assessments

The psychological safety section of CPJ’s risk assessment model

Journalists and journalism students are often required to complete risk assessments prior to certain information gathering activities, such as on-site filming.

These usually cover physical hazards, but the Committee to Protect Journalists provides a risk assessment template (PDF) that includes sections on digital security and psychological safety.

Advice on risk assessment can be found in the IPI’s online harassment project section on risk assessment in the newsroom.

Education on risk assessment can include these dimensions and point to these resources. It could be explained that the risk factors include nature of the story covered: Those related to gender, ethnicity, immigration, extremism, disinformation and other topics where there are strong feelings are likely to be more at risk than others.

It is also a good opportunity to talk about risk factors related to the journalist’s gender, ethnicity and sexuality, and how these are not limited to the online world: 73% of respondents in the according to a UNESCO study (PDF) identifying themselves as women reported having experienced violence online, and one in five said the abuse had moved offline.

3. Cover both sides of harassment in media law…

Harassment laws (or dimensions of industry codes) are increasingly used against journalists, but journalists are also increasingly required to report harassment under the same laws. Media law courses on privacy, harassment and malicious communications can address the law both as a factor to consider when reporting and as something the journalist and his employer can draw upon themselves. .

The Library of Congress provides a collection of resources on Laws protecting journalists from online harassment – in 12 different countries, including England and Wales, Spain and Brazil.

PEN America has a section on Legal Considerations and publishes a guide to legal resources for writers and journalists in this country.

And the IPI offers a series of videos on legal remedies to combat online harassment.

In addition to the law, social media companies themselves increasingly control content, a form of regulation to which journalists and their audiences are now subject. Understanding how it works – and how and when online abuse can be reported on different platforms – is an important new dimension of media law and regulation.

4.… and information security too

Many online abuse strategies mean that the target must take information security into account

In the media law module of my masters journalism courses, I teach information security. Why? Journalists, as I concluded in research in 2015, can no longer protect their sources through legal channels alone and therefore need to understand both technological and legal defenses.

This year, I extended this teaching to also talk about the security of personal information in the context of online abuse.

PEN America‘S Online Harassment Field Manual compiles “strategies to protect and arm yourself before you become the target of abuse, with a focus on strengthening your cybersecurity and building online communities of abuse. support that will support you ”, discussing a number of tactics used by online abusers. , from doxxing and identity theft to hacking. Feminist Frequency also provides a guide to online safety.

The Data Detox Kit also describes “the steps you can take to control your digital privacy, security and well-being in the way that’s right for you.”

5. Include guidelines in social media writing lessons.

IPI Journalist Support Protocol

Social media is the main space where online abuse takes place, so writing lessons for these platforms and related skills such as community management (IPI has a whole section on audience moderation) , are an obvious place to discuss some of the techniques for dealing with online abuse.

One such technique, for example, is to “flood social media with positive posts about the work of colleagues to cover up any abuse they may face.”

It may also be that those who manage social media accounts are more likely to read abuse against the organization and their colleagues, and to use strategies to deal with it (concerns are expressed as to the fact that “public engagement” roles “put journalists up” for abuse, for example).

The recommendations of the Kean and Maclure study (summarized here) provide a useful framework here and are worth citing in detail:

  • “Keep business and personal social media accounts separate
  • “Use strict settings to filter out trolls – block, ignore and disable personal attacks
  • “Switch off outside office hours
  • “If the accuracy of a story is called into question and you choose to answer, stay factual – but don’t expect to have the final say because you can never win a ‘Twitter spit’
  • “Make the difference between (personal) attacks and criticisms (for journalistic reasons)
  • “Document and threats or abuse
  • “Report abuse to management and use the internal processes in place
  • “Talk about it with family, friends or colleagues to” get rid of the heat “
  • “Do things you love outside of work
  • “Remember that abuse is never about your ability
  • “Stay away from social media if necessary and enlist the help of an editor to do so
  • “Know that it’s okay to be upset and abuse is not okay and shouldn’t be part of the job. “

The International Federation of Women Media (IWMF) offers a Know Your Trolls course that can also be incorporated into social media training.

6. Organize a screening of A dark place

Earlier this month, I hosted a screening and Q&A around the hour-long documentary A dark place, which highlights “the experiences of women journalists who have been the target of online harassment”.

It’s a must-see documentary, especially to understand the gender dimension of online violence, as a recent UNESCO report highlights:

“Women journalists are both the main targets of online violence and the first to respond to it.

“Misogyny is one of the main features of online violence targeting female journalists, and it has been routinized… In detail and delivery, threats are personal [and] they are often very sexualized.

Contact details for screening and Q&A requests can be directed to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of the Media.

7. Ask speakers how they deal with online abuse

There is a good chance that a guest speaker has experienced some form of online abuse themselves. If you think this may be relevant or useful for students, it may be helpful to ask the speaker in advance if this is the case and if they are ready to talk about it as part of the session.

Hearing respected industry figures talk about online abuse makes the topic more tangible and manageable, while helping students place it in the context of industry practices, support systems, and ongoing developments.

8. Include online abuse as a critical issue in college courses

Most journalism courses require students to study the critical issues surrounding the profession. Online abuse – alone or associated with related issues such as disinformation, privacy, social media, the diversity and or Propaganda – is a serious candidate to be among them. Resources you can draw on and direct students to include:

How do you cover online abuse in your teaching? Please share other ideas and experiences in the comments below or on Twitter. @paulbradshaw


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