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Online abuse impacts journalists’ mental health

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By Henlly Phom Odyuo Updated: Jun 19, 2022 8:25 pm
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Our Reporter
Dimapur, June 19 (EMN):
Online abuse has a negative impact on the mental health of journalists, especially women who often experience online violence, revealed Dr. Debanjan Banerjee, MD, DM, Geriatric Psychiatry National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) Bengaluru.

According to a survey that he conducted among journalists, Banerjee said that 80% responded that online abuse had gotten significantly worse since they began their careers. The key findings also suggested that many of the attacks were part of orchestrated disinformation campaigns.   

The psychiatrist was addressing a mental wellbeing workshop on how journalists and fact-checkers can protect their mental health from online abuse and trolling virtually on June 19 organised by Data Leads for journalists, media educators and fact checkers.

The psychiatrist said that mental health was the most significant impacts of online violence experienced by women which was at 26%, followed by feeling physically unsafe as a result of online violence at 17%, the need to seek medical or psychological support because of the emotional/psychological impact at 12%, missing work due to the emotional or psychological impact at 11%, damage to professional reputations or employment at 10% and missing work due to the potential for physical violence triggered by online attacks at 4%.

49% of the women respondents experienced abuse with hateful language, followed by harassment with unwanted private messages which was at 48% and targeted with reputational threats at 42%. The other types of online abuse were threats of physical violence, threats to their professional standing, threats with sexual violence, detected surveillance and image based abuse.

According to Banerjee the sensitive themes that involve mental health for the journalists were gender issues; politics; election and political leaders; human rights; sexism and social policy; refugee and immigration status; religion; disinformation; and investigative journalism.

The psychological effects of online abuse and trolling, he said, were reduced self esteem, isolation and emotional loneliness, guilt, anger and rejection, depression and anxiety disorders, postpartum stress, absenteeism, impaired job satisfaction and productivity, sleep disturbances, physical ailments.

Trolling, he said, was a ‘denial type’ of abuse where the person who trolls may not be aware of it and may not be taken seriously by many, including one’s own family and friends, treat it with not much seriousness or understanding that  it may have a long lasting effect.         

The common subjective experiences of journalists facing online abuse were that they were told “just to grow out of it, not to bother, sure that they didn’t mean it, please grow a tough skin, and this happens in this profession”.

Banerjee pointed out that one does not grow out of online abuse and cannot be immune to it.

“You cannot just neglect it as there is no shame or guilt in seeking help and being mentally strong does not help while abuse cannot be the answer to abuse” he opined.

Few of the technical tips that he suggested during the workshop were to carry out data mapping, to remove personal sources of data identification or tracing from all online platforms, data security and authentication, to do a risk assessment for each story and identify the possible groups that might target you and not to engage in self censorship or battling trolls.

He also suggested to create a peer support network by creating a group chat on a messaging app where journalists can talk about abuse, share tips and resources and let others know when they need support, to reach out to younger journalists who may not feel comfortable approaching more senior members of staff about abuse and to conduct workshops on mental well being.

 Mental health, he concluded, was not just the absence of mental illness but a state of wellbeing in which an individual realises potential, perceives satisfaction, copes with stress and works productively.

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By Henlly Phom Odyuo Updated: Jun 19, 2022 8:25:52 pm