Cabaero: Online violence against women

Nini Cabaero
·2 min read

A WOMAN once called out a Facebook group for passing around rape jokes. She told the group rape was never funny. After that, she got ridiculed and those who commented said she must have experienced being raped or that they wished she got gang-raped.

Her calling them out did not deserve such a threatening response. But it usually takes very little to get a violent reaction online. A harmless comment that was contrary to their beliefs or political affiliation, a statement about gender or gender choice, a woman figuring in the news.

According to a recent survey by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco), 73 percent of the women journalists surveyed reported having faced online violence while doing their job. They are often targeted in coordinated misogynistic attacks. Why did the survey focus on women journalists? Because journalists too suffer from such attacks. The survey was conducted together with the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ).

Unesco launched Monday, March 8, 2021, its campaign on online violence against women journalists. March 8 is International Women’s Day. The Unesco campaign will highlight key results from the Unesco-ICFJ global survey which was participated in by over 900 journalists and other media from 125 countries, including the Philippines. I was one of those who participated in the survey.

The campaign, with the hashtag #JournalistsToo, points to how this violence harms women’s right to speak and society’s right to know. A Unesco statement on the campaign said online violence has since become a new frontline in journalism safety — a particularly dangerous trend for women journalists. There have been cases of online violence moving offline with potentially deadly consequence.

Although most of the violence remains online, the abuse directed at women impacts their mental health with some needing medical or psychological help. For women journalists, some censored themselves on social media, withdrew from all online interaction and avoided audience engagement specifically. Others made themselves less visible, missed work, quit their jobs or abandoned journalism altogether. Facebook was rated the least safe platform.

Journalists noted that the story theme that received the most attacks was gender (47 percent), politics and elections (44 percent), and human rights and social policy (31 percent). As to the sources of online violence, attacks appeared to be linked to orchestrated disinformation campaigns (41 percent) and political actors (37 percent). More than half are anonymous or unknown attackers (57 percent).

The study calls for “strong responses from social media platforms, national authorities and media organizations” to end this violence.

It’s time people online were told their attacks and insults on others are not harmless at all and that they should stop.