Online hate speech and harsh words are part of everyday life for many journalists who work and are visible online. This is true of all types of journalists, whether in a national or local newsroom/department. However, if you are a high-profile journalist, a presenter for example, the risk is greater that you will be subject to hate speech and, in the worst case scenario, threats on social media.
Consequently, it is important that both individual journalists and your newsroom/department have strategies for dealing with this. Emmy Rasper, presenter and show host from Sveriges Radio, has talked in many different contexts about her experiences of hate speech and threats. This checklist, for both managers and other employees, is based on her experiences and analysis of them
"Is there anyone man enough to run him over with the fork lift?"
Expect hate speech, threats and severe criticism. You are then prepared and can support your employees.
Draw up an action plan for you and your newsroom/department.
Talk to your employees regularly so that you are in agreement.
Take your employees’ experiences and concerns seriously.
Don’t forget that you are also responsible for contributors and interviewees who are subjected to hate speech and threats.
A manager’s responsibilities:
Your newsroom/department should have an action plan. Expect your employees to be exposed to criticism online. This will include both reasonable, courteous criticism and emotional, high-pitched criticism. Women and minorities (people of an ethnic background or LGBTQ) run a higher risk of being exposed to threats and abuse online. Talk about this with your employees and prepare strategies that you agree on. Hate speech, threats and criticism will be easier to counter and deal with if you are well prepared.
Take your employees’ experiences and concerns seriously. Be sensitive and aware of whether your employees are being exposed to anything online that causes them distress. Offer counselling and support. No one should have to face severe external criticism alone. As everyone is different and has their own limits for what is acceptable, do not play down or ignore employees’ experiences and feelings in relation to severe criticism. Remember that many people feel ashamed to be the object of online hate. It is your task as manager to keep a general eye on the situation by asking questions continuously, keeping the issue alive and actively searching on social media, particularly if it is known that there are vulnerable employees.
Report threats to Swedish Radio’s security department. Be particularly aware of anything that is or borders on illegal threats, stalking and organised harassment. In such cases, contact the security department and, following consultation with them, the police (see below).
Define your own limits. Think about where the boundary lies between your professional role and your private life.
Think also about your own limit on what you perceive to be reasonable criticism and what are personal attacks and online hate.
People who attack or criticise you online do not know you. They form an impression of you based on what is visible in public. If you know this, it is often easier to respond to criticism as a professional, and not to take attacks and severe criticism personally.
Setting clear time limits also makes it easier to manage anything that might cause you distress. Try not to actively seek out things that have been written about you before you start work in the morning, after the end of the working day or during the weekend. If you receive severe criticism outside working hours, you can respond “I will respond on Monday when I am back at work”.
In an exposed position, for example as a prominent presenter, it may also be good to consider having different social media accounts. Some people who have suffered online hate have decided to have an open professional account and a closed private account for close friends and relatives, and have obtained an unlisted phone number.
Respond to criticism. Respond to as much of the criticism directed at you as possible, for example in comments fields. This shows that you are reading what is written and are not afraid of criticism. Responding to angry or unpleasant comments often leads to an improvement in tone, or to the person who wrote the comment having second thoughts and even apologising for their tone and language.
Don’t respond to hate. Everyone has their own limit for what and how much they can tolerate in terms of public criticism. Don’t respond to anything you perceive to be hate speech, threats and serious personal attacks. Report them to your manager (an email stating that “a person is writing this about me” may be enough). You will often feel better if you calmly talk to your manager and colleagues about what is happening online. It is important to feel that you are not alone.
Use your manager It is easier to manage hate speech and threats if your newsroom/department has strategies and action plans that are clear and on which you agree. Make sure you demand that your manager takes the issue seriously and keeps him/herself informed. Where appropriate, let your manager respond to criticism of the kind that you should be sacked or where questions are raised about how you could have landed your job.
If you are distressed by attacks and criticism online and need counselling, talk to your manager and contact your workplace health service.