Female journalists facing growing online attacks: UNESCO | Freedom of the Press News

Almost three quarters of the journalists surveyed experienced online abuse and a quarter were exposed to physical threats.

According to the latest information from UNESCO, online violence against female journalists has increased “significantly” as a large majority were exposed to harassment, threats and ill-treatment while at work.

In a report released on Friday, the UN agency surveyed more than 900 women journalists from 125 countries and found that nearly three-quarters of them had experienced online abuse.

The study also analyzed 2.5 million posts on social media addressed to two prominent female journalists. Maria Ressa from the Philippines and Carole Cadwalladr from the UK.

“Online attacks on women journalists appear to be increasing significantly, as this study shows, particularly in the context of the ‘shadow pandemic’ of violence against women during COVID-19,” the report reads (PDF).

A quarter of the respondents said they were physically threatened. According to the report, there is increasing evidence that online violence against female journalists is correlated with increasing offline violence.

“This includes physical assault and offline abuse and harassment that is triggered online, as well as legal harassment that is enabled and amplified by online violence,” the report said.

“Unfortunately we see here that this is a global phenomenon,” Guilherme Canela, head of UNESCO for freedom of expression and safety of journalists, told Al Jazeera.

“Some journalists reported threats because they were reporting on elections or conflict, or because they were telling stories related to women’s rights, or because they were reporting issues that were mistakenly identified as ‘male reporting’, such as sports,” Canela said.


The report found that black, indigenous, Jewish and Arab women journalists have the highest rates of online violence and the most serious effects of it.

Al Jazeera’s correspondent, Hiba Morgan, who has covered conflict across Africa, said that because of her coverage, she regularly faces online threats and abuse, and that intimidation can affect self-esteem.

“They seem to be aimed at smearing you and shaking confidence in yourself. This affects how you interview people, how you hear their stories, and how you present those stories,” Morgan said.

“I see an increase in threats from sexual violence or misogyny comments. Sometimes it even reaches the level of racial comments saying that as an African I don’t know how to tell a particular story,” she said.

“And when you get home and you tend to ponder these stories, you wonder if you could have done better,” added Morgan.

The rise in online violence is also linked to the rise in disinformation about viruses, which has serious consequences for the mental health and freedom of expression of reporters.

Almost a third of women surveyed said their mental health was affected by threats, and some reported having post-traumatic stress disorder. A third of women reporters said they decided to censor themselves after these attacks.

“These attacks have a double impact: on individual freedom of expression, but also on the collective freedom of expression of all readers and listeners,” said Canela.

“So the consequences for the public can be very detrimental,” he added.