Glasgow & West Scotland

Journalists targeted by cyberbullies, Strathclyde Uni study says

Phone Image copyright PA
Image caption The survey found that abuse was most common on Twitter

Online abuse has left some journalists fearing for their personal safety and could lead to censorship of contentious stories, according to a new survey.

The Strathclyde University pilot study of 35 broadcast, freelance and print journalists found that Twitter was the main source of abuse.

Some 28% said they had been threatened with violence and a further 5% said their families had been threatened.

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) called for "zero tolerance" of abuse.

The union's Scottish organiser Paul Holleran said: "In September 2014 the NUJ called for the end to threats and intimidation of journalists reporting on the referendum.

"We had also, earlier in the year, supported a number of members who had been threatened by football supporters, unhappy at the way stories related to their club were being covered.

"In recent weeks there has been a spate of attacks on journalists and the union responded, targeting the bullies and demanding a stop to the abuse."

Police involvement

Mr Holleran said the NUJ was now "stepping up the pressure on the bullies" but also wanted "employers to step up to the plate and stand up for journalists".

He added: "As we have always stated it is to be expected when journalists are criticised but we draw a line at unacceptable levels of abuse and threats.

"We will highlight any ongoing attacks and in serious cases we will involve Police Scotland who have always been supportive of our work in this field."

The Strathclyde University study found that among respondents:

  • 50% said cyberbullying affected how they went about their work
  • 37% said it affected their personal life
  • More than 40% did not report the abuse to their employer at the time
  • 74% were not aware of support available from their employer
  • 82% were unaware of support available from the NUJ.

The university found that in some cases, journalists had experienced a form of cyberbullying more than 50 times in the past year.

Some referred to "death threats" and the need to take additional security precautions both when out and about and at home.

Many spoke of damage to confidence and self-esteem, and feelings of anger, stress and anxiety.

Self-censor

Dr Sallyanne Duncan, a senior lecturer in journalism at Strathclyde University said: "Our research shows that significant numbers of journalists experience online abuse in their daily work. But it goes beyond that.

"Social media is a professional tool for journalists, which keeps them connected whether they are at work or at home, and consequently it can be really difficult for them to escape their abusers.

"They can't switch off their devices without potentially missing a story so the result is that they are constantly a target."

Dr Duncan said that, as well as personal and professional issues for journalists, there was also a "freedom of expression issue".

"Our research has indicated that some journalists might choose to self-censor, avoid contentious stories, or stop using social media in order to avoid their abusers," she said.

"This could have serious consequences for a free society.

"We plan to carry out more detailed research into the scale of the problem, its impact on journalists and way they do their jobs, and how to address the problems raised."

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