'I would backhand your face off your head'

How can online abuse be prevented?

'I would backhand your face off your head'

Back in February, I was sent my first abusive message, in response to my blog asking whether it was a good idea for people to speak their personal opinions on LinkedIn, related to the truckers in Ottawa.

“Did you fucking seriously just ask that question? I would backhand your face off your head and respond, ‘Yes, it is always right to speak out!’ Go [to] downtown Ottawa and ask that,” commented an individual on our message platform (all messages are reviewed before they are posted).

The messages included a headshot, I’m not sure if that was the actual person sending the message, but of course there’s no name provided.

I can’t deny, it was tough to read. Why can’t people get their point across without bringing violence into the equation? Why must they make it personal?

Reporter airs frustrations

I mention this because Rachel Gilmore has been in the news recently, for the unfortunate reason that she reported an apparent death threat against her – to little effect.

The Global News reporter detailed her experience on Twitter, providing videos of a frustrating call with Ottawa police. Gilmore was trying to explain that she had been named in a threatening email along with two other female reporters that included the words:

“We made a fun, old school wall with printout pics of all the Canadian media cunts that need to be boogalooed the fuck out of Canada… after rating which ones need to be silenced first, and which ones retired, etc.”

But when Gilmore tries to explain, briefly, the context of the email, the policewoman interrupts: “Ma’am, ma’am, can I, can I talk?”

The reporter tweeted out her frustration with the response:

“Needless to say, I am furious. Is this how @OttawaPolice handles reports of gender-based and racist threats? Death threats? "Can I talk?" How many women who *don't* have my platform have faced this while trying to file a report? Hm? Disgusting. Incompetent. Wrong.”

Heightening harassment

While the situation with police is enlightening, the larger issue of harassment of journalists continues to be a huge concern.

Directed often at women, the threatening, violent and often anonymous abuse on social media seems to be accelerating – possibly because the issuers face little in the way of repercussion.

In February, the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) expressed concern about “the alarming rise in harassment and threats against journalists” covering the “Ottawa occupation protests” and similar demonstrations across the country.

In October 2021, Unifor called the escalating harassment faced by journalists – particularly online and targeting women and workers of colour – “absolutely unacceptable” and condemned the behaviour.

Will new tool help?

But the online abuse continues, seemingly unabated.

And it’s still not clear how much employers are responsible for their workers’ safety in this situation. Short of relying on the social media platform itself, such as Facebook or Twitter, to permanently block abusers, or having the employees not engage on social media – an unrealistic scenario these days for most journalists – it’s hard to know how these professionals can be protected to safely do their job, without the threats.

Thomson Reuters recently launched TRFilter, a tool for journalists and media practitioners to document and manage online harassment and abuse, enabling them to regain control of their social media feeds, take action against perpetrators, and protect their well-being.

I’m really not sure how effective this tool will be, but it’s definitely better to be trying something, anything, than to throw up our hands in despair.

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