The Perils of Reporting While Female
Trolls, death threats, and constant harassment — the risky business of being a woman journalist in the social media era
“Feminist cunts should die.”
This was the subject of an email I received a year and a half ago. Wary but curious, I opened the message and confirmed that the feminist cunt in question was me.
I didn’t delete the message. Instead, I printed it out and brought it to my local police station, where they added it to a growing file that had started some months earlier, after I published an article in Politico correlating toxic masculinity and mass shootings. In response to the article, a man I had never met sent me a picture of a mutilated woman accompanied by an incoherent message.
The graphic nature of the image unsettled me in a way his words alone would not have, and persuaded me to file my first police report. Some fellow female journalists encouraged me to do this, in case the threat — and others like it I’d been receiving — escalated to something more serious.
At the time, I was no stranger to cyberbullying. When I wrote about climate change, the gender wage gap, and racial health inequities for the Street, the comments sections of my articles were often filled with hundreds of posts attacking my intelligence, my attractiveness, and my intentions. But I had never before been on the receiving end of a death wish, especially one delivered directly to my personal email account.
People are rarely surprised when I tell them that I have been targeted by online harassers; anyone who is active on the internet can probably attest to its dark side. Its impersonal and often anonymous nature enables us all to hurl insults with near-impunity. And journalists are especially susceptible to this kind of treatment. But while most of us have dealt with online abuse at some point on the internet, some demographics are more likely to be victims and are more vulnerable to its negative effects.
The pieces written by women attracted the vast bulk of the comments that were later removed by moderators.