In today’s society, criticism is very much performed on celebrities, politicians, academics, journalists, and any public figure. The internet makes them easy targets for shaming, defamation, trolling, and other offensive feedback towards their work or themselves. This study focuses on women’s reactions and especially avoidance strategies as a response to these kinds of attacks. Among journalists, women tend to self-select out of the public sphere (in closing their social media account or stopping writing for the public) more than men do.
The study focuses on three forms of avoidance: limiting engagement with one’s audience, adapting one’s reporting behavior, and considering quitting journalism. It also analyzes two possible explanations for gendered behavior: sanction severity and internalization of gender roles. “When individuals do not conform to gender roles, they may be negatively sanctioned, for example, by being devalued (Eagly and Wood, 2011). To avoid negative sanctions and their corresponding costs, people tend to conform to gender roles—even today, despite gender role changes in recent centuries (Eagly et al., 2019). In particular, women in high-status positions are regularly socially sanctioned because they violate status expectations.”
The study tries to determine if avoidance strategies are linked to higher risks of experiencing sexual attacks, physical threats, and stress and anxiety. An online survey was sent to 637 journalists in Switzerland, in French, Swiss and Italian. Journalists all came from different backgrounds (press, web, radio, TV…). They were asked questions about avoiding reading their reader’s comments, limiting their social media activities, avoiding covering certain people or sensitive topics, and considering quitting journalism. The frequency to which journalists were attacked and threatened was also questioned.
Results show that women are more likely to be sexually attacked than men, but it does not mediate gender differences in avoiding strategies. There is no difference between men and women in the likelihood of being physically threatened. However, being a woman significantly increases stress, and thus affects limiting engagement with the audience, adapting reporting behavior and considering quitting journalism.
Stahel L, Schoen C. “Female journalists under attack? Explaining gender differences in reactions to audiences’ attacks.” New Media & Society. 2020;22(10):1849-1867. doi:10.1177/1461444819885333