The Canada Press Freedom Project collects and provides data about the nature and prevalence of online threats against media workers in Canada and those working for Canadian media organizations internationally.
WHAT IS AN ONLINE THREAT?
Online threats against media workers have been on the rise around the world for several years. They can range from targeted harassment campaigns designed to dissuade journalists from reporting certain stories to threats of violence and death. An Ipsos poll of media workers in Canada conducted in 2021 showed racialized, 2SLGBTQ+ and women media workers were disproportionately targeted and subject to a heightened severity of harassment. Among respondents, a third of those targeted by online abuse have thought about leaving journalism entirely.
Online abuse can take many forms and all are intended to create chilling effects on journalists and their work.
While a growing body of research demonstrates what many have been trying to highlight for years, these threats are not tracked systematically at the industry level in Canada as an occupational safety hazard and an attempt to silence media workers.
Historically, the primary reporting options available to targets of online threats and abuse are newsroom leadership and law enforcement. While some media organizations have recently taken up the threats posed by online abuse as a legitimate workplace risk that requires remediation, policy and action, workers may feel disinclined to approach either entity given their records on this issue and responses to dangers disproportionately experienced by women, 2SLGBTQ+ and racialized targets.
The CPFP newsroom independently tracks press freedom violations across twelve categories, including online threats, with the goal of increasing knowledge of working and reporting conditions in Canada. There are some trends with substantial impacts on media work and rights that we are unable to track given the project scope and approach. For more information about what we track, visit our methodology page.
The CPFP defines online threats as communications sent in a digital format (email, social media [public page or private messages], web comments, etc.) that contain one or both of:
1) Threats of violence: The expression of an intention to commit or wish of physical harm against the recipient, their close connections such as family members, another media worker or media workers/organizations at large.
2) Hate speech: Targeted harassment, hatred or contempt based on one’s race, gender, disability, religion or other protected category. Such threats may be sent directly or made in public online spaces and can be seen to incite hatred on the basis of one’s identity. The CPFP may draw on legal definitions of hate speech in its journalistic assessment of incidents, which may include reference to the 11 hallmarks of hate messages recognized by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal and in the Criminal Code of Canada that the effects of messages need not be proven, but that they “willfully promote” hatred.
Because of the significant editorial and methodological challenges involved in quantifying online abuse in all its forms on an ongoing basis for a small newsroom that assesses and reports all incidents, the CPFP has designed its category thresholds with these realities in mind.
The litany of online harassment faced by media workers beyond the threshold set by the CPFP has significant bearing on press freedoms and will be the focus of analysis and educational resources, including those designed to address gaps in knowledge about steps to mitigate online abuse and its impacts.
HOW THE CPFP PRESENTS INFORMATION ABOUT ONLINE THREATS
The CPFP newsroom reports press freedom incidents in two formats.
Across 11 categories, all cases can be found in our online database in the form of a news post. An incident will also appear in a corresponding line in our spreadsheet, which is available for download by request.
Online threats are a unique area of press freedom violations and we are keenly aware of the vulnerabilities that may arise by publicly identifying oneself as a target.
Unlike other categories, many individual reports of threats will not be posted on the website in any manner other than in the spreadsheet and in aggregate in reports. Some exceptions may include cases such as those of highly publicized targeted campaigns, where targeted media workers have drawn attention to the nature of a response to them or where charges have been laid against an accused.
Details supplied to us through the completion of our online threat submission form inform the data we are able to document about press freedom violations in Canada in this category.
While we do require identifying information to verify incidents, it is at an individual’s discretion whether they wish their name to be made known. Consent to be named may be given or declined in any format in which your submission is shared.
The recipient of a threat may designate someone else to submit a report on their behalf. The designee must have express consent to share an incident and may be contacted for further information.
The CPFP requests that documentation of the threat received is shared in submissions. We ask that this is shared so that we may verify details and assess if the incident meets the CPFP’s category thresholds. The CPFP does not intend to amplify threats of violence or hateful speech that may be contained in the messages shared with us and will be circumspect in their use. Only in cases where the CPFP team determines there is a meaningful or express public interest case in noxious and hateful content will it be published or excerpted.
After the first page of the online threat submission form, answers to remaining questions are optional and will be used to inform further reporting and analysis; and presented in aggregate in annual reports.
RESOURCES AND SUPPORT FOR DEALING WITH ONLINE THREATS
- Online Violence Response Hub
- Protecting journalists from online abuse: a guide for newsrooms – Reuters Institute
- Online Harassment Field Manual – PEN America