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cyber-bullying Taking on the trolls?


“I take this approach because I feel I have exhausted all others,” she says. “I’ve gone to the police, and while it did result in a conviction, it has not put a stop to the abuse and I found the legal process extremely stressful.” Each time she tried reporting the abuse, she says Twitter


wanted proof of identity (a picture of her passport) and she felt uncomfortable with the information required. “It is not practical to deal with the volume of abuse,” she says. Despite this, Angela, like many journalists, is wary about


legislation. “I see a great risk in banning speech that is offensive,” she


says. “I often feel greatly conflicted about my responsibility as a journalist to free speech and the effect that speech then has on my personal and professional life.” Emma Barnett also has concerns. “What I don’t want to see


happen because of this climate of hate and animosity online is that journalists start self-censoring and don’t write the polemics and pieces of commentary that need to be written,” she says. The International Federation of Journalists highlighted this issue in November saying that while many dismiss abuse as ‘freedom of speech’, it can actually inhibit that freedom and poses “a serious threat” to society. More than half of journalists questioned in the NUJ survey said cyber-bullying affected how they work. BBC journalist, Yolande Knell, said messages she received


covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict made her “much more reluctant” to use social media. Polly is also using Twitter less and turned down two pieces within a fortnight because she couldn’t face the fallout. “I suspect papers throw younger, less experienced and


potentially less aware writers under the wheels of all that, in the name of click bait, on an hourly basis,” she says. “I sometimes think future journalists will get work not because they’re good, talented, experienced etc, but purely because they can handle the ire.” Emma agrees it is dividing the industry: “There’s the Katie Hopkins end which is cashing in on it and going completely extreme and then the middle ground.” So how does the ‘queen of mean’ handle the ire? As a Daily Mail columnist, Katie Hopkins admits she is threatened “on a fairly regular basis”. She says: “Some threaten to rape me with a machete. Others that they are going to punch me in the face with a house brick. I don’t think it is an issue. I suspect these are weak young men and women who still live with their mum, floss their teeth with their toe nails and eat their own ear wax for breakfast.” Katie says she is “encouraged” when people want to engage in a debate – “no matter how poorly”. So what more can be done? The OSCE has called for more research and industry-wide guidelines, creating training and mentorship programmes for female journalists. The NUJ has also called on social media sites, the police and employers to take more action. Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, says:


“Journalists must not be silenced by online abuse and that is why we have published guidelines to support members. As


16 | theJournalist “ ”


Journalists must not be silenced by online abuse and that is why we have published guidelines to support members


yet there is no consensus within the industry about how the perpetrators should be tackled.” In the US, researchers have developed a tool called Trollbusters which identifies ‘troll nests’ and sends positive messages to the victim. (It won a top prize in New York, including $10,000 funding from Google). The tool was designed by Michelle Ferrier, the first female


African-American columnist at the Daytona Beach News Journal who ended up quitting her job and carrying a firearm following abuse. Michelle, now Associate Dean for Innovation at the Scripps


College of Communication, Ohio University, says although there are short term solutions, they do nothing to help journalists re-gain their reputations online. “Positive messaging lets targets know that someone has their back,” she says. While the UN and other countries are trying to tackle the


problem, none has come up with a comprehensive strategy. “We need concerted efforts on all fronts to not only stop, but seek recourse for the targets of online harassment,” she says. In the meantime, the debate rolls on.


How to deal with abuse


• Keep a sense of perspective, remember that people who get targeted get left alone eventually.


• Keep the evidence and if it’s on social media, keep reporting the abuse to the internet service provider (ISP) until it stops. Keep copies of the reports, remind the ISP of their duty to remove abusive comments and in the UK, refer to a possible infringement of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.


• If you feel it will help, fight back, but do not use abuse yourself. Tell the person the abuse has to stop, and if it doesn’t, use the block or ignore option. If you decide not to respond, don’t stop posting online as this is


what the abuser usually wants.


• Get support and tell people you are being targeted. If an abuser is bombarded with responses, they are more likely to leave you alone. Ask friends to maintain a firm, but non-abusive stance (otherwise it will undermine your case if you take it to the police).


• Karlin Lillington, technology journalist at The Irish Times says: “Know your legal rights, and know what constitutes a threat or defamatory comment.”


• Sinead O’Carroll, news editor of Irish news website, The Journal, says the key is to differentiate between feedback (even negative)


and trolling which should be ignored.


• Ben Whitelaw, Head of Community and Digital Development for The Times and Sunday Times says: “We advise our journalists to pause and think hard about the implications of replying to any online abuse. Responding can often inflame the situation and give oxygen to a view that would blow over if ignored. In situations where the user is abusive and anonymous, there’s little to gain from trying to engage in dialogue. As hard as it is, the best policy is often to block the user or turn notifications off until the episode has passed.”


For further info, visit www.nuj.org.uk


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