In a report published today, entitled “Online harassment of journalists: the trolls attack”, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) voices concern about the scale of a new threat to press freedom, the mass harassment of journalists online.
he perpetrators may be ordinary “haters” (individuals or communities of individuals hiding behind their screens) or “troll armies” of online mercenaries created by authoritarian regimes. In both cases the goal is the same, to silence journalists whose reporting annoys, often using exceptionally abusive methods.
For months, RSF documented these new online attacks and analyzed the modus operandi of the press freedom predators, who have been able to exploit the latest technologies to extend their oppressive reach.
“Online harassment is a phenomenon that is spreading throughout the world and now constitutes one of the gravest threats to press freedom,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “We have discovered that information wars are not just waged between countries at the international level. Journalism’s predators also deploy troll armies to hunt down and harass all those who investigate and report the facts honestly. These despots let their mercenaries train their guns on journalists on the virtual terrain as others do in actual war zones.”
The report says that it is hard to establish a direct link between governments and online conspiracies against journalists. RSF has investigated and documented cases of online harassment of journalists in 32 countries, shedding light on hate campaigns orchestrated by authoritarian or oppressive regimes in such countries as China, India, Turkey, Vietnam, Iran and Algeria.
It pointed out that women journalists are affected the most by cyberharassment. Two thirds of women journalists have been the victims of harassment and in 25 per cent of the cases, the harassment occurred online.