Online threat

Organized harassment targets women journalists

Amidst a constant background level of online harassment, threats and abuse, several prominent women journalists in Canada saw a significant increase in online violence beginning in August 2022. 

More than a dozen media workers in Canada reported an increase in online harassment over August, reported the Toronto Star

In particular, Toronto Star podcast producer and reporter Saba Eitizaz, Global News journalist Rachel Gilmore and freelance journalist and The Hill Times columnist Erica Ifill reported an increase in the volume of harassment and violent threats over the month of August 2022. 

All three have previously been the targets of ongoing, organized harassment campaigns that have included death threats and racist, misogynist abuse. The Toronto Star described the harassment in August as “a torrent of racist, homophobic, misogynistic and violent messages,” which appeared to be “systematic and organized.” 

Many of the messages contained similar language, including racial hatred, violent misogyny and grievances against individual journalists and the media at large. 

Journalists who tried to report threats to police described frustrating, seemingly unproductive experiences, including waiting for hours on hold and speaking to officers who seemed uninterested in taking their reports. 

“I learned that there is no law on the books, or will from law enforcement to actually do anything about online threats. For two years I have been reporting death threats, and all they do is take notes. There’s never any follow-up,” Gilmore told the Toronto Star

Eitizaz described a “bored and dismissive response” from police when she tried to report threats; Gilmore shared a video of her call trying to report threats to Ottawa police, whose response she described as “Disgusting. Incompetent. Wrong.” 

Online abuse directed towards Canadian journalists appeared to increase after a Sept. 22 2021 tweet in which People’s Party of Canada leader Maxime Bernier directed his Twitter followers to “play dirty” with journalists. 

“There’s a clear, sustained and extremely organized ongoing hate campaign against Canadian journalists since last year. Most of whom are racialized, women and those who are vulnerable,” Eitizaz wrote on Twitter on Aug. 4, 2022. 

Bernier’s tweet named three Canadian journalists, but other media workers, including Eitizaz, Gilmore and Ifill, also reported an increase in volume and severity of online violence that appeared to coincide with the tweet.