How online violence is impacting women journalists

By: Excel Fongoma

With social media amplifying the opinions of different people online, things can quickly snowball into bullying. As journalism increasingly evolves to exist online, many journalists, specifically women, find themselves being ‘dragged’ and harassed.

In a session at the 18th African Investigative Journalism Conference titled, Dealing with online violence against women journalists, issues that woman journalists face in the online world were detailed.

The panel consisted of Caryn Dolley, journalist at Daily Maverick, Qaanitah Hunter, assistant editor at News24, Doreen Wainainah, managing editor from PesaCheck, and Amanda Strydom from Code for Africa. They cited everything from being called names and the online discrediting of their stories, to being accused of using pornographic content in their personal capacity, with the intention of making them give up on the stories they were working on.

This harassment affects both the physical and mental health of female journalists, and in some extreme cases some women change their career paths to avoid constant scrutiny.

Dolly said women are victims of the above because people think they are easy targets and can be subdued.

She explained that because most of them are unaware of when an online attack can turn physical, every threat must be treated seriously.

She said that South Africa currently has a strong crop of female journalists, which is why there is so much online aggression.

“We will continue to have female journalists in the long run, and there are still young women who wish to work as reporters. By taking action right away, we can guarantee the safety of future journalists,” emphasised Dolly.