Digital Security IV: Female Journalist Online Harassment
Gender equality is one of the Sustainable Development Goals to achieve for the next 10 years (Agenda 2030). Lamentably, women are still suffering from the fact of being women themselves. To exemplify the previous quote, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) did a survey with the next result: almost two-thirds of women journalists have been subjected to online abuse (IFJ, 2018). In other words: 68% of the female who works in journalism has experienced digital harassment.
This survey highlights one of the fastest-growing forms of gender-based violence (GBV) against women journalists as digital platforms encourage ease, impunity, and anonymity of aggression – the bastion of the coward and the bully – hiding in plain sight”, as the IFJ Gender Council co-chair Mindy Ran has said (IFJ, 2018). The Age of the Internet has meant a huge improvement in how people are being communicated and getting data. However, this also means some new risks –which, as usual, increase to these social groups that are more vulnerable. The current article is going to do a brief review of females journalists in the digital era and online harassment.
Defining some concepts
Digital security is a collective human right that concerns the idea of protecting people online; not only in what people are sharing, that would be related to the right of freedom of expression, but also in having online privacy. Digital security practice also must contribute to protecting people from human rights violations, which can be also guaranteed safeguards behind cyber harassment.
Another thing to consider is the concept of “cyber-harassment”; it can be defined, taken from criminal law field, as “repeated online expression amounting to a “course of conduct” targeted at a particular person that causes the targeted individual substantial emotional distress and/or the fear of bodily harm” (Citron, 2015). In other words, online harassment happens when someone is having a behavior that causes harm and distress to others. Sometimes is difficult to find where are the boundaries between freedom of expression and being abusive and intrusive.
Online harassment can adopt different shapes: from being annoying, thorough online trolls, to invasive, for example with doxxing, to being traumatic, for instance whereby violence threats. Thus, there are many online spaces where harassment can take place: from social media platforms -such as email, Twitter, Facebook or Instagram-, messaging apps -WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger-, blogging platforms -like Tumblr or WordPress-, to commenting sections -that can be in YouTube pages or personal blogs (PEN America, n.d.).
#SOFJO a campaign to protect female journalists online.
“Democracy thrives when a plurality of voices are heard both on- and offline. Plurality is currently at risk” is said in the campaign #SOFJO (OSCE, n.d.). The OSCE highlights that journalists are usually pointed out as the target for online attacks. Added to that, female journalists have a dual burden: the attack as a journalist and as women; the typology of threats are related to rape, physical violence, and graphic imaginary. ” In extreme cases, these attacks lead to self-censorship or worse: women retreating from the public sphere, leaving the male-dominated field of journalism with even fewer female voices”, continues narrating the campaign (OSCE, n.d.).
Overall, OSCE Institution considers online harassment of journalists not only a direct attack on the free flow of information but also a barrier to the exercise of democratic rights (OSCE, n.d.). There are some warning statistics that point the following: the majority of abused respondents said these attacks had had psychological effects such as anxiety or stress (63 %), while 38 % admitted to self-censorship and 8% lost their job (IFJ, 2018).
Online harassment in the first person: the case of Arzu Geybullayeva.
Arzu Geybullayeva is a freelance journalist from Armenia who has suffered online harassment while covering news in Azerbaijan. “The feeling that you have is almost feeling dirty, like if you have done something really bad”, is explaining her in a video done for the #SOFJO campaign (source: https://www.osce.org/representative-on-freedom-of-media/373660). Arzu Geybullayeva answers while remembering the first time that she received a death threat through Facebook.
“It was pretty scary just in the fact that I received a death threat”, remembers the journalist, “I think that part in the very beginning they succeeded hurting and making me feel scared”. She felt intimidated by something virtual, which physically couldn’t “touch her”, but behind that were real people. According to the Armenian journalist, this person, who is behind a screen sending cyber attacks, is having a clear intention to do physical punish.
“Being a woman played a big part in this ”, points Arzu Geybullayeva. She thinks that if being a boy threatens would not take the same direction, for instance, mentioning rape. The repercussions that online harassment can have on a person are numerous, suggests the journalist. For example, nowadays Arzu Geybullayeva is trying to avoid talking about “peace and dialogue” in the Armenian context. However, Arzu Geybullayeva feels that there are people, who believe in similar things, losing the chance to read her point of view.
For Arzu Geybullayeva the turning point to re-emerge from the slump was a conversation with her boss, who told her that she was bigger and stronger than this “attacks”. Arzu Geybullayeva says that “she was not a victim anymore”; she found herself able to use her experience in work and also to prevent others from suffering the same situation. “My advice to someone who is experiencing something remotely similar is to give themselves time to be recovered and to move on because we love what we do”, is saying the Armenian journalist.
Some words of conclusion
“The level of online abuse that female journalists are suffering is causing many of them to leave the profession, which further down the line will have an impact on not just audiences, but on people even thinking into the profession”, is saying Anna-Claire Bevan from the International News Safety Institute (The OSCE, 2018). To sum up, touch upon that online harassment is having grave consequences for female journalists. “Is essential to have female voices as well as male voices online”, continues Bevan.
Therefore, the nature of online harassment based on gender is a reality. Despite can be seen that male journalists also suffer harassment while being connected to the Internet, women content of the harassment “is very quickly sexualized and graphically violent” –as Anna-Claire Bevan has said (Bevan, A-M. The OSCE, 2018). For this reason, giving importance to it and working to make this online harassment visible is noteworthy in order to protect women and change cyber attackers’ behavior.
Last but not least, Anna-Claire Bevan is adding that is important to take this kind of harassment seriously, even though seems “just” a virtual threat and offers support to journalists. On the other side, Holly Daves, from the community, encourages women to “call in reinforcements, and don’t think that they have to handle it alone” (Muti & Daves. The OSCE, 2018). As a matter of fact, to protect female journalists online is everyone’s responsibility.
To keep watching: The consequences of online harassment of female journalists.
To keep reading: What is online abuse?
Defining “Online Harassment”: A Glossary of Terms
Toxic Twitter – A toxic place for women
Citron, D. (2015, July 15). Defining Online Harassment. Retrieved March 10, 2019, from
International Federation of Journalists. (2018, November 23). IFJ global survey shows massive impact of online abuse on women journalists / IFJ. Retrieved March 10, 2019, from
Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE (n.d.). Safety of Female Journalists Online. Retrieved March 10, 2019, from
PeEN America (n.d.). Defining “Online Harassment”: A Glossary of Terms. Retrieved March 10, 2019, from
Bevan, Anna-Claire. The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media. (2018, February 23). Interview with Anna-Claire Bevan. Retrieved February 11, 2019, from
Muti, Manon & Daves, Holly. The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media. (2018, February 23). Interview with Manon Muti and Holly Davis.
Retrieved February 11, 2019, from