On Wednesday June 6, as part of a weeklong visit to Finland focused on the issue of online harassment of journalists, IPI visited three newsrooms in the southwestern city of Turku, the country’s oldest city and former capital.
IPI went to Turku to learn how online harassment affects journalists outside Europe’s large capital cities, and in particular because local newspapers had experienced several severe online harassment cases in recent years. The three newspapers IPI met were Turun Sanomat, the regional media leader, which has dealt with two extreme cases; Åbo Underrättelser, a Swedish-speaking minority language paper; and Turkulainen, a local city paper.
The lessons learned and topics discussed resulted in the following points:
– Working in a local environment can make journalists feel more vulnerable and exposed, as online harassment is or is perceived to be something that can more easily turn into face-to-face verbal abuse and physical threats.
– In serious cases, media outlets can implement concrete security measures, such as restricting access to the newsroom, making sure journalists use safe transportation or providing security enhancements like security cameras to the harassed journalist’s home.
– Online hate can be an emotional burden for newsroom moderators, even though it usually is not addressed at them directly. Therefore, psychosocial support should also be provided for moderators.
– The readiness to report threats to the police varies. However, the general feedback was that more threats should be reported even though the police is under-resourced to manage them.
– Having a familiar contact person in the local police who understands the issue helps in dealing with harassment cases. Journalists can contact the police and ask, for example, whether the person who has sent the threats has any previous criminal record to assess the risk, among other forms of cooperation.
– Requiring readers to register before they comment on a news item is considered an effective measure for curbing some of the hateful comments that might appear, but the technical process of moving into a registration system is perceived as tricky, laborious and expensive for smaller newsrooms.
– Most reader discussion, especially around smaller local papers, takes place on social media, mostly Facebook. Moderating Facebook discussions is seen as laborious, and especially in small newsrooms, forces journalists and chief editors to work as moderators even on weekends.
A more in-depth report from the country visit to Finland will be published in the following weeks. Next week, IPI is taking its OnTheLine project, which aims to research and summarize best practices for newsrooms in dealing with the online harassment of journalists, to Poland.