Media Matters for Democracy launches ‘Hostile Bytes’, a study of online violence against women journalists

A report launched by Media Matters for Democracy (MMFD) shows that all women journalists within the country face some type of online violence titled ‘Hostile Bytes – a study of online violence against women journalists’. The report shows that 95 percent of women journalists feel online violence has an impact on their professional choices, while 77 percent self-censor as a way to counter online violence.

The report is being launched a day before the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists. While most of the conversation focuses on the violence that journalists face in physical spaces, virtual spaces can also be vicious, especially for women journalists without any real repercussion for those who threaten and make these spaces toxic.

The abuse female journalists face in online spaces is often not taken seriously, but has real repercussions for them. The results showed that 105 out of 110 women believe online violence impacts the mental health of female journalists.

“The sexualised and personal nature of abuse directed towards them not only affects them on a personal level, but also affects journalism in general that is heavily occupied by men leaving no room for women’s voices. In times when their voices should be amplified, hate campaigns against women journalists is a very well-thought-out strategy to ensure systemic oppression of women in professional spaces,” says Hija Kamran, programs manager at MMfD and the author of the study.

Reluctance to Report

The research also shows that 3 out of 10 women journalists are victims of serious online crime such as blackmail and incitement to violence against them. The participants were not satisfied with the response they got from social media platforms and law enforcement agencies when they reported online violence. There was also a reluctance to report to law enforcement agencies, showing that there is a need to improve the way these agencies handle online violence.

Online spaces are increasingly becoming important for journalists to not only promote their work but also reach wider audiences. The survey conducted for the research was filled by 110 women journalists, from different parts of the country, in addition to in-depth interviews with prominent journalists like Gharidah Farooqi, Amber Rahim Shamshi, and Tanzeela Mazhar. All women agreed that social media and digital spaces are important online components that impact their professional choices.

The journalists also spoke of the importance of having networks of women journalists which could become a vital support system that would help them deal with online violence. In the in-depth interviews, the women journalists said that in instances where they had been specifically targeted online, speaking to colleagues who had faced the same helped them deal with the online violence they were facing.

The complete report can be accessed here.