Online harassment is the largest safety concern for female journalists, new study finds
Posted September 8, 2019 2:51 p.m. EDT
CNN — Technology companies could be doing more to help ensure the safety of journalists, who face online threats and harassment, according to a press freedom group.
Many journalists, especially female and gender non-conforming reporters, are familiar with receiving angry messages, threats and taunts online in response to their reporting. Online harassment is the biggest safety concern facing many female journalists, according to Courtney Radsch, advocacy director at the Committee to Protect Journalists. Social media companies, have a role to play in monitoring their platforms to mitigate this kind of behavior, she told CNN's Brian Stelter on "Reliable Sources" Sunday.
"We don't want journalists to be fearful of reporting on issues," Radsch said. "It's not enough to mute or block somebody, you need to know if those threats are coming through, and we need more proactive responses from the tech platforms."
Radsch's comments come after the release of a new survey from the Committee to Protect Journalists about female journalists' perception of their own safety and freedom in the United States and Canada. The report highlights risks journalists face in two countries not often thought to be dangerous to the press, but where 85% of respondents said they feel less safe than they did five years ago.
Respondents said they faced worse harassment for covering key subjects such as local or national politics, or extremism. That harassment from readers and online trolls ranged from unsolicited sexual messages to threats of violence, rape or death, and also included the publication of reporters' private information online.
"If journalists feel that they're going to get retaliated against, or attacked or threatened, because of the reporting they're doing, that could have a silencing and a chilling effect," Radsch said.
And that harassment does not always simply remain online, the survey found. It quoted one respondent, a reporter who covers far-right extremism and technology, who said men associated with a large white supremacist group once said on a radio show that if she attended an upcoming rally, she would leave in a "body bag."
The past two years have been dangerous for journalists in the United States. In June 2018, five newsroom workers were shot and killed at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, and another reporter was killed earlier that year in Chicago. Before 2018, the last time a journalist was killed for their work in the United States was in 2007. Already this year, the US Press Freedom Tracker pins the number of attacks on journalists working in the United States at 28. A Reporters Without Borders report found more journalists were killed worldwide in 2018 than in any other year on record.
Survey respondents also said they feel anti-press rhetoric from President Donald Trump and his administration contributes to the threats journalists face.
Suzy Pietras-Smith, a 20-year journalism veteran, said in the survey the biggest threat to her safety is "the Trump administration making it OK to harass us."
The survey's findings reflect research by other nonprofit organizations including Amnesty International and the International Women's Media Foundation about the dangers women journalists face online. The Committee to Protect Journalists has updated its safety guides for journalists in response to the survey.