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Is social media safe for women journalists?

SAMAA | - Posted: Oct 31, 2019 | Last Updated: 5 months ago
Posted: Oct 31, 2019 | Last Updated: 5 months ago
Is social media safe for women journalists?

Reporters across the world are encouraged to share their work on social media and maintain a social media presence. But for women, audience engagement can have very unpleasant consequences.

Almost every time a woman comes out of her shell and raises her voice for women’s rights, she starts to get threats. An example of this was when the Aurat March was held in Lahore and Karachi. The organizers of the Aurat March were threatened with rape on social media. The threats weren’t just confined to social media though: they got offline threats as well.

This was not the first time a Pakistani woman was threatened on social media. One of the most well-known cases is of Qandeel Baloch, a model and social media celebrity who became the target of mass trolling and criticism online and was later strangled to death by her brother.

To discuss these emerging trends of online and offline harassment and its solutions, the Digital Rights Foundation organized a workshop on Wednesday. Here are some of the suggestions made during the seminar.

How to tackle harassment in the workplace

  1. Media organisations should look to hire more women in positions of power. Having a female editor is a game changer for many reporters as female editors can better understand the issues female reporters face.
  2. Media houses must hire mental health counselors. Most journalists suffer from trauma, depression and anxiety because of the nature of their job. Female reporters’ mental health is also impacted by online trolling and harassment, which requires urgent mental health care within the workplace.
  3. Media houses need to offer concrete support to their female employees when they are dealing with online trolling.
  4. For female journalists that are sent into the field, the challenges are very different from the ones male journalists face. Media houses should create a sense of security for their journalists. The JUI-F’s Azadi March is an example of an event very few women journalists were encouraged to cover. City 42 was the only channel to send a female reporter to cover the march. Other media organisations should also encourage their female employees to cover such events and, as an added security measure, employers can hire security advisers for field reporting like this.

Online violence and abuse against female journalists is an extension of offline violence and abuse against women, according to Amnesty International. Online harassment occurs on a spectrum of violence, it can include direct and indirect threats of violence, such as physical or sexual threats and in some instance, such threats can quickly spill over into the real world.

Few female journalists share their stories of being victims of harassment. Here are some stories shared by journalists at the seminar about online harassment.

Unsolicited contact

I reported about the militarization of the Swat Valley. Following these stories, someone found my phone number and demanded to know my address. They wanted a meeting so I could be ‘educated’ about the current political scenario and the dynamics of the Swat Valley, said a one female journalist at the seminar.

Mass trolling

Another female journalist shared her experience on how she got trolled on social media after tweeting against a political party.

I tweeted about the heavy presence of a political party at a religious party’s protest camp at Star Gate in Karachi and was heavily trolled online. I blocked the abusers and the dust settled after that. Since then, I don’t tweet a lot about politics, she said.

Threats of sexual violence

Once, when I wrote a story about rape, I was trolled online by people saying that I must be raped for writing the article. As a result, I decided to not write about this topic again. Despite it being an online threat, I felt it in my bones. It was hard for me to accept that people have such mindsets, shared another journalist.

Personal and political attacks

On social media, if I criticise one party, the other accuses me of being a paid journalist or if I highlight a taboo issue, I am accused of being against Islam. If I post anything about women’s rights, people abuse me and make personal attacks.

The seminar urged the need for proper legislation to counter workplace harassment. “There are laws in place but they are not implemented. It is important that the state gets rid of the loopholes in its digital security laws. The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act needs to be updated and amended,” said one speaker.

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