Data on the state-sanctioned online violence and harassment experienced by assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia is going to be studied as part of a major project to develop an early warning system to help detect, predict and prevent violence against women journalists in an international project by the International Center for Journalists in collaboration with The Shift.
Speaking at the International Journalism Conference in Perugia, Global Director of Research Julie Posetti, together with three other high profile journalists launched the key findings of a global study of gender-based online violence. Addressing the festival audience on Saturday were BBC’s Marianna Spring in the UK, Brazil’s Patricia Campos Mello, and Washington Post columnist Rana Ayyub in India.
All three journalists participated in the UNESCO-International Center for Journalists research project and went on to share their experiences of the harmful impact of online violence against them, the threats to journalists’ safety and the public’s right to know. They also shared the strategies used to fight back.
Rana Ayyub described how she is relentlessly attacked online by a vast and highly organised campaign connected to the rise of right-wing Hindu nationalism where thousands of individuals regularly flood her social media channels with violent abuse including sexual violence and death threats to her and to her family, including an anecdote where she once simply tweeted a full stop and received a flurry of abusive replies within seconds.
Campos Mello recalled how she became the target of Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro and his son in a sexist campaign designed to shame her and discredit her investigative journalism. Campos Mello fought back by suing them and won.
BBC disinformation reporter Marianna Spring described how, as the pandemic escalated, she came under intense fire, targeted by misogynists and conspiracy communities in brutal ways including leaving messages on subway notice boards, implying that she was being followed. Spring chose to address this by confronting some of the individuals who had sent her abusive messages. In one case, the messages stopped once the individual concerned realised that he was attacking “a real person”.
All of the experiences shared by the journalists underscored just how quickly and how dangerously online violence spilt over into their offline, physical worlds, affecting not just the journalists themselves but also their families.
The study also concluded that the element of risk of online violence was one that deserved “[…] initiating a multi-stakeholder ‘early warning system’ to trigger interventions (including from UN Special Rapporteurs) in cases where there is a significant risk to a target under attack online”.
The impact of having such a system like this in place is that it recognises just how dangerous online violence against women journalists is, despite this danger being routinely ignored by social media companies and by law enforcement authorities and hopefully helps identify risks to women journalists’ safety before it is too late.
Speaking at the conference Posetti also described the case studies of coordinated online abuse against journalists Maria Ressa in the Philippines and Carole Cadwalladr in the UK and added that in order to better identify the key indicators that mark an escalation of online violence against women journalists and implement the recommendation of an ‘early warning system’, five new case studies, will be introduced, including the online abuse to which Daphne Caruana Galizia was subjected.
For this new project, the International Centre for Journalists’ (ICFJ) research division is partnering with computer scientists from the University of Sheffield and the Centre for Freedom of the Media (CFOM), to lead the project.
The Shift has joined forces with ICFJ and submitted documentation for the new project including the findings of its six-month investigation into the secret Facebook groups that worked to dehumanise and isolate journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia – the same findings that were presented to the board of the public inquiry tasked with assessing the State’s role in her death.
In February and March 2020, The Shift’s founder Caroline Muscat presented the inquiry with the results of its undercover investigation exposing the mechanics of the vicious, relentless campaign against Caruana Galizia. That evidence, together with the data the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation had compiled, helped prove the principal verdict in the inquiry’s report: the State is responsible for the climate that enabled the brutal killing of the trail-blazing journalist.
Together with the data for Caruana Galizia, the new case studies will also focus on women journalists in India, Lebanon, Mexico, and South Africa.
In her latest update, @smoshavi shares how ICFJ’s research team is identifying key indicators & metrics signaling escalation of #onlineviolence against women journalists. The goal? An early warning system to help detect, predict and prevent attacks: https://t.co/aUy1e4OlLg pic.twitter.com/qvXs2IRLCu
— International Center for Journalists (@ICFJ) April 10, 2022
Nobel Laureate Maria Ressa, whose experience of online violence was the focus of a recent ‘big data’ case study published by ICFJ, will serve on the advisory panel for the new project.
In addition to Ressa, the project advisory panel will include international human rights lawyer Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC (who represents Ressa), Reporters Without Borders Global Campaigns Director Rebecca Vincent, and other leading experts from industry, civil society, and intergovernmental organisations.