• Venessa Paech

Game-changing resources to guard against online abuse

Australian Community Managers (ACM) have partnered with Gender Equity Victoria (GEN VIC) and the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) to launch new resources to support women journalists and their employers in confronting online threats and abuse.

Threats against journalists are not new.- especially those speaking truth to power or reporting on abuses or challenging the status quo. In the 21st century these threats are increasingly played out in digital settings, intersecting with other social frictions and fissures.

In 2016, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance surveyed over 1000 journalists, most of them women in a report called “Mates Over Merit”. It showed a significant proportion of women journalists had experienced online harassment, trolling and stalking during the course of their work. 32 per cent said their employer had no policies to address thos online abuse.

In 2020, a study by the International Center of Journalists and UNESCO found that three-quarters of women journalists report online abuse, harassment, threats and attacks.

These digital harms can easily become physical ones. In 2017, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported that in more than 40 per cent of cases, journalists who were murdered reported receiving threats, including online, before they were killed. That year two female journalists were murdered within six weeks of one another: Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia; and Indian journalist Gauri Lankesh. Both were victims of gendered online attacks before their murder.

Australian Community Managers (ACM) are honoured to have partnered with Gender Equity Victoria (GEN VIC) and the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) to launch the Enhancing Online Safety of Women in the Media project, aimed at bolstering resources for women journalists facing abuse and threats.

We’ve teamed to created three critical resources to help media orgs and publications better support women journalists who experience harassment. They've been developed through surveys, interviews and focus groups and extensive consultation:

1. Australian Media Moderation Guidelines: these comment and online discussion moderation guidelines are the industry-standard for Australian media to moderate comment sections using a gender and intersectional lens.

2. Responding to the Comments: workplace support guidelines outlining organisational responsibilities for helping women journalists deal with the effects of online harassment.

3. Media Cybersafety Training: for HR professionals and management staff at media organisations to develop policies and procedures that are aimed

at reducing the traumatic impact and emotional labour of online harassment on journalists.

ACM supports and works with online community managers and moderators across Australia. We train professionals in legal compliance, resilience and building healthy digital cultures - in media and social media environments as well as owned online communities. We’ve seen first hand the issues GEN VIC and their partners have documented and we understand it takes a systemic approach to mitigating these risks.

Download our explainer on Online Moderation in Australia

Good governance online is intractable from effective community building. There is no excuse for organisations to not be paying attention or be accountable for the digital environments they draw value from. When we invite people into these spaces, we have a duty of care to ensure we’re protecting them as best we can. Professional community managers and moderators are also increasingly investing in resilience training and additional supports to ensure they're able to be both effective and healthy cultural intermediaries.

These new resources are the first supported by the media industry in Australia to recommend moderation and community management professionals should be offered counseling and support to ensure they are able to safely and effectively perform their work.

Download the new resources at https://www.genvic.org.au/focus-areas/gendered-cyberhate/

“When women journalists are left to deal with online harassment on their own, it creates a ‘chilling effect’ on their reporting and drives them away from journalism,” said Tanja Kovac, CEO of GEN VIC.

“The Australian media industry needs to take urgent action to address the impacts of online harassment on women journalists. We have developed these resources to ensure the welfare and safety of women journalists is at the forefront of media organisational policies.”

Social media and digital platforms are a non-negotiable part of most media workplaces. Where abuse is occurring as part of a journalist - or a community manager - doing their job, it is a workplace health and safety issue. As our partner and project lead Caitlin McGrane says: "Too often the emotional labour of dealing with online harassment and moderating comments falls to those least equipped or empowered to deal with it."

If you’d like to register your interest in the training, contact Caitlin McGrane at genvic.org.au