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IPI launches database on online abuse against journalists

The International Press Institute (IPI) today launched an online database aimed at recording harassment, abuse, threats, hacking and other web-based methods of intimidating independent media into silence.

Vienna, Munich, Dec 6, 2016

by Javier Luque, IPI digital media coordinator; Cagla Zimmermann, IPI social media research analyst

 

Spanish journalist Mayte Carrasco spent years covering deadly conflicts across the globe, from Afghanistan to Libya. But it was from the safety of her own home that she faced some of the most vivid threats to her life.

Not long after Carrasco published a book based on her coverage of the war in Syria in May 2014, she began to receive dozens of abusive and threatening messages on Twitter.

“In the twilight of your days you will hear from us,” one tweet from an anonymous account read.

Carrasco is far from alone. Online harassment of journalists is widely reported to be on the rise, including in countries with a traditionally strong record on press freedom. Coverage of this phenomenon, however, has largely been restricted to anecdotal evidence.

International watchdogs such as the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media and academic researchers around the world have highlighted the need for systematic monitoring and analysis to better understand the scope of online abuse targeting journalists.

With these calls in mind, the International Press Institute (IPI) today launched an online database aimed at recording harassment, abuse, threats, hacking and other web-based methods of intimidating independent media into silence.

Intended as a resource for journalists, researchers and media freedom advocates, the database currently contains 766 verified instances of online abuse against journalists collected in two pilot countries, Turkey and Austria. It will be updated on a regular basis to reflect ongoing data collection and will be expanded to cover additional countries.

The database forms part of IPI’s Ontheline programme, initiated in 2015 in order to combat growing online attacks on the media. During the programme’s initial phase, IPI researchers conducted more than 50 in-depth interviews with journalists targeted by online mobs as well as with experts in cyber security, social network analysis, psychology and other fields. In January 2016, IPI began systematically monitoring social media platforms in Turkey to record instances of attacks on journalists.

The data collection follows a standard methodology to better study this emerging threat to independent journalism.

First, instances of online abuse are classified according to three broad categories: violent threats, abusive behaviour and technical interference. In a second step, each attack is analysed using nearly 20 variables, ranging from the type of victim (journalist, news website, media corporation) to the background issue that appears to have prompted the attack (religion, nationalism, politics, education, etc.).

This present feature looks specifically at the 674 instances of online threats and abuse against journalists collected in Turkey. IPI released an analysis of preliminary data from Austria on Dec. 2, two days ahead of that country’s presidential election.

For the analysis of pilot data from Turkey (that highlights use of threats, smears to silence critical reporting), continue reading the IPI article here