What to do when you are being targeted with online abuse:
- Become familiar with any online safety guidelines or protocols of the media organization to which you are contributing. Keep in mind that these guidelines regularly change. Note that our best practices recommend that media outlets make all information regarding online harassment available to staff as well as freelance journalists.
- Establish contact with the online safety team of the media organization so that you understand whom you should contact in the case of online abuse and how you should contact them.
- Take advantage of any training opportunities offered by the media organization related to online harassment.
- Where possible, take part in formal and informal peer support mechanisms within the media organization. Peer support networks have proven to be an important tool to minimize the emotional toll on those who are targeted with online violence.
In the event of immediate danger or physical threat:
- If you are away from the newsroom, contact the police immediately, followed by your editor, the online safety expert and any relevant peer support groups.
- Try to document all the threats or intimidating posts. Take screenshots with your mobile phone. Alternatively, consider asking another person to take screenshots to limit your exposure to the material.
- If you are in the newsroom, immediately contact your editor and the online safety expert, if any. Stay in the newsroom until adequate measures have been put in place, and contact your family.
- Document, or have a colleague document, the material.
In case you are the target of an smear campaign or wave of hate consider taking the following steps:
Responses to content:
- Contact the relevant online safety expert in the newsroom with which you are cooperating. In general, the same steps and measures available to newsroom staff should also be available to freelancers. The online safety expert should assist you in assessing the seriousness of the case and any measures that need to be applied.
- Document the abuse (e.g., take screenshots) or ask a colleague to do so. Avoiding excessive exposure to these kinds of posts is a good strategy to minimize further emotional and professional impact.
- Carefully consider if you want to respond to any of the abusive comments. Generally speaking, the best course of action is to avoid engaging with users who have targeted you. Most experts have found that doing so does not lead to an improvement and may worsen the abuse. If you do choose to respond, it is recommended to use extreme politeness, irony and humour as ways to diffuse the vitriol.
- If it is not you but a colleague who is targeted, coordinate with other journalists to engage in online counter speech and show public support.
The media organization for which you are writing should perform a risk assessment to gauge any potential risk emanating from the online attacks and take necessary measures accordingly. In general, it is recommended to consider the following to minimize any possible danger:
- Disable any geolocation features on social media. Avoid posting messages on social media that make your daily routines obvious.
- Revisit your social media accounts and consider removing photographs with identifiable locations that could reveal your patterns or personal information (anything from identifying surroundings to license plate numbers). Do the same for information about family members on your accounts: Women journalists in particular are prone to receiving comments directed at their family members.
- Disable permission for tagging or mentioning your account on social media.
- Keep a low profile on social media for a period of time, especially when it comes to sharing personal information.
- Temporarily protect your social media accounts with a lock.
- If you are doing confidential work, use encrypted channels to communicate with sources.
The big picture:
- In general, it is useful to create some distance from your specific case. Try to view online harassment as a larger societal phenomenon rather than abuse directed at you personally.
- Understand that online aggressors are attacking you because of your work – even if the attacks refer to your personal life. This can be helpful in easing the emotional and personal burden.
- Consider putting your journalistic skills to work as a response to online harassment. We know that in many cases harassment is not organic but is planned or at least driven by a network of users linked to political parties or governments. Revealing these networks can help deprive them of their power and influence.