Seattle U: Online harassment impacts press freedom

SEATTLE — A First Amendment professor in the Communications Department at Seattle University has just completed a first-of-its kind survey that reveals online harassment could threaten press freedom nationwide.

Caitlin Carlson PhD recently surveyed more than 100 female journalists who reported receiving insults, threats and sexual comments directed at them online and via social media because of their work as journalists.

According to Carlson, often anonymous commenters “hurl these insults at you, threaten you, talk about coming to your place of work. It can really cross the line,” she told KIRO 7 Wednesday.

The study, titled Online Harassment of U.S. Women Journalists, revealed that 82% of female journalists surveyed believe online harassment impacts press freedom, but does not scare them off the story.

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“To our surprise, journalists are not avoiding certain topics,” Carlson said. However, online harassment is causing attrition and job dissatisfaction.

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“Our concern is that more women are going to be leaving journalism because they’re having to deal with this online harassment.”

“I’m so glad there’s data out there to back-up what, anecdotally, I’ve seen” said Ruchika Tulshyan in response to Carlson's study.

Tulshyan is a native of Singapore who spent a decade as a business reporter in Mumbai, New York and Atlanta.

Now, as a Professional-in-Residence, Tulshyan teaches Seattle U Communications students about the realities of reporting in the digital age, especially for women.

“On one hand, the internet has really democratized storytelling. A lot more people can tell their story,” she told KIRO 7. But “what we’re telling a certain segment of the population is, do so at your own risk because you’re going to face a lot of backlash.”

Tulshyan admitted that she expects to receive criticism for her reporting But, “do I need to also get pushback on the way I look? Do I need to get pushback on other parts of my identity that have nothing to do with how well I’m doing my job?”

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