The Chilling: A global study of online violence against women journalists


The Chilling: A global study of online violence against women journalists was published by the International Center for Journalists, United States on November 2, 2022. The report studies gender-based online violence against women journalists through a survey spread across 15 countries, including 901 participants, in the year 2020. It also interviews with 184 journalists across 17 countries and case studies of the social media accounts of journalists Maria Ressa, the Philippines and Carole Cadwalladr, United Kingdom. The study is led by Julie Posetti and Nableelah Shabbir from the International Center for Journalists.

The report states that the aim of online violence against women journalists is networked targeting to humiliate, professionally discredit and induce fear to the point of retreat. The report provides multiple examples to attest that online violence is “not virtual” – it causes psychological injury and often economic and physical impact due to the threats of sexual assault, physical violence, including death threats to family members.

The report also identifies gaps in existing legal setup, government mandates and its incentives, role of employers and the accountability of social media platforms. It includes recommendations for each of these key stakeholders.

This 313-page report is divided into seven sections: Introduction and methodology (Section 1); Global overview: comparative analysis of incidence, impacts and trends (Section 2); Big data case studies (Section 3); What more can news organisations do (Section 4); Platforms and vectors: Assessing Big Tech's responses to online violence (Section 5); Legal and normative frameworks for combating online violence against women journalists (Section 6); Conclusion and recommendations (Section 7).


  1. Online violence causes psychological stress and creates an environment to banish women from public spaces, the report states. The study highlights that 25 per cent of the respondents (179 women) of the survey had received online threats of physical violence, including death threats.

  2. As high as 18 per cent of the respondents (129 women) had experienced threats of sexual violence.

  3. The report identifies forms of online violence such as doxxing (“process of retrieving, hacking and publishing other people’s personally identifiable information”) and deepfakes (“the sophisticated manipulation of audio, video or images designed to misrepresent the target”).

  4. A significant population from the surveyed experienced some form of invasion of privacy. About 18 per cent of the surveyed women surveillance, 14 per cent of the surveyed women experienced hacking and eight per cent experienced doxxing.

  5. While 73 per cent of the respondents said they had experienced online violence in the course of their work, only 25 per cent had reported this to their employers. This reveals that many women journalists, who are often disadvantaged in newsrooms, inform their employers only of extreme instances of online violence.

  6. The report states that “Black, Indigenous, Jewish, Arab, Asian and lesbian women journalists” experienced both the highest numbers and the most severe impacts of online violence.

  7. About 15 per cent of the respondents and many interviewees experienced ‘image-based abuse’, defined in the report as “manipulated photos or video, stolen images, explicit images shared publicly without permission”.

  8. Nearly half of the women journalists surveyed stated that gender was the theme of the story receiving the highest online attacks, followed by politics and election (44 per cent), and human rights and social policy (31 per cent).

  9. The report provides many examples where platforms have failed to moderate content published on them. For instance, a 2016 presentation by Facebook researchers – published in 2020 in the Wall Street Journal, stated that “64% of all extremist group joins are due to our recommendation tools”. This reveals that most of the activity came from the platform’s “Groups You Should Join” and “Discover” algorithms.

  10. The report recommends that news organizations should recognize gendered online violence as an issue compromising workplace safety. Protocols should be designed to “identify, monitor, prevent and respond” to online violence.

  11. The report recommends that internet companies should develop ways to identify accounts which perpetrate abuse. Such systems should be developed with more sophisticated abuse reporting systems.

  12. The study recommends that governments should consider attaching punitive measures against those who perpetrate online violence against women. Laws and regulations that could protect women journalists offline should be applicable on online sites as well.

  13. Intergovernmental organizations including UNESCO should use “cross-border and cross-platform” measures to ensure safety of women journalists.

    Focus and Factoids by Shakti Singh.


Julie Posetti and Nabeelah Shabbir


International Center for Journalists, United States


02 Nov, 2022