Culture

Female Journalists Are Calling For An End To The Horrific Abuse They Cop Online

Leigh Sales awoke to a torrent of abuse this morning, and she's had enough.

Veteran ABC Journalist Leigh Sales woke up this morning, checked Twitter, and saw this tweet:

The 7:30 anchor and podcast extraordinaire didn’t let the tweet slide.

“Another morning, another bit of casual misogyny & abuse – basically a daily occurrence for high-profile women on social media,” she tweeted, broadcasting the abuse to her 350,000 followers.

A lot of other female journalists empathised.

News Corp’s Annika Smethurst shared one of her own abusive replies:

And ABC News Breakfast presenter Virginia Trioli said that she too faced daily abuse:

“Not so casual, this bit of abuse,” Trioli tweeted in reply to Sales’ call out. “And yes, it’s daily. And yes, it’s non-partisan, but wow the apparently progressive “Left” can really dish it.”

She pressed on:

“It’s odd. I don’t know why today I’ve been pulled into a discussion about online abuse — I usually let it slide,” she tweeted. “Would they dare say this to our faces?”

For Sales, online hate has been her norm for years.

“It’s awful to say, but I think I’ve become so used to it that it’s water off a duck’s back,” she told Junkee. “I’m not sure why but I really just don’t care what some moron with a name like @hairybuttlord51 thinks of me.”

41 per cent of female journalists have similarly been harassed, bullied or trolled on social media, according to a 2016 report commissioned by Women in Media, and Australia is widely regarded as one of the worst countries in the world for abuse of female journalists on Twitter.

In a submission to a senate inquiry into cyberbullying, Women in Media provided evidence of the type of abuse that high-profile women faced. Sky News reporter Caroline Marcus was the subject of a fake, anti-Semitic Instagram account. Commentator Jane Caro’s daughter was called a “dead set fuckin idiot”, and writer Van Badham had images likening her to a pig posted online.

Nina Funnell, a Walkley award-winning journalist who has written extensively on campus rape culture, warns that this culture poses a near-impossible problem for women.

“Women are often advised to just unplug, switch off or tune out, but if we took this advice on board en masse, we’d just be unplugging from online spaces altogether,” she told Junkee. “Instead, we end up practicing online daily hyper-vigilance, which is both time-wasting and emotionally exhausting.”

“Sometimes I do block or delete. Other times I will post it publicly to recruit support and have others bear witness to the experience, as this can shatter the sense of shame and isolation that can accompany abuse.”

It’s hard to tell whether the media enables this toxic culture.

One 2015 study found that for every female mentioned in English-word papers across the world, five men are mentioned. An Australian report from 2016 revealed that only 16 per cent of women in media knew that their employer had policies about online abuse.

When asked whether media organisations need to do more to welcome women into their fold, Sales said that problem lay with the audience.

“I don’t really think there’s anything the ABC could do to protect me from abuse online. The only way you could do that is to entirely remove yourself from digital spaces,” she said. “I see it as my responsibility to make an active decision about how I respond to it and I choose mostly to ignore it, laugh at it and mock it with my friends.

“People who say rude, abusive, ignorant, sexist things on social media should stop and have a think about whether they’d like it said to them or their mum or their daughter.”

For women who cop abuse online, Sales’ advice is to take the high ground.

“Just walk away. Don’t engage. It’s a waste of time,” she said. “I try to get a laugh out of it and my friends help me do that. One of them rang me this morning when he saw that tweet and he said, ‘Listen it really upsets me to see you get bullied like that, it’s so unfair.  And also I just wanted to let you know, if this is what it takes to get you over the line, I’m joining the Liberal party.’  We were howling with laughter.”