Study uncovers pervasive online violence against women journalists in Uganda

A new study titled “I Thought You Are Beautiful: Uganda Women Journalists’ Tales of Mob Violence on Social Media” unveils the alarming extent of online violence faced by women journalists in Uganda. Conducted by journalism scholars Gerald Walulya and Florence Namasinga Selnes, the research reveals that social media platforms have become breeding grounds for coordinated attacks targeting female journalists, particularly those working in television.

The study findings expose the pervasive nature of sexist comments and attacks directed at female journalists, critiquing their abilities and questioning their professionalism based on their gender or sexuality. This pattern mirrors similar trends observed in other countries. Television journalists, in particular, face a barrage of targeted attacks on their physical appearance, often sexualising and humiliating them.

A journalist, quoted in the study, gave this testimony: “I (once) did a piece to camera [when a television reporter/presenter speaks directly to the viewing audience through the camera], and when the story (was shared) online, someone commented, ‘You have so many pimples. Where do you put the money they pay you?’ Another comment read: ‘I thought that chic [girl] was tall. She is a dwarf.’ And you are like, what did I do to deserve all that negative energy? I felt offended.”

According to the research, online spaces merely amplify historical biases and reinforce patriarchal structures, ultimately contributing to the silencing of critical reporting. These attacks not only hinder journalists’ professional endeavours but also extend to their families, creating an additional layer of pressure that may force women journalists to withdraw from contentious reporting or social media platforms altogether.

Furthermore, the relentless harassment, often employing derogatory language and personal insults, undermines journalists’ confidence and diminishes their willingness to address crucial societal issues. This pervasive hostility potentially leads to self-censorship and avoidance of sensitive topics, such as politics, in order to escape online abuse, ultimately impacting their career choices.

The study’s authors advocate for collective efforts to protect journalists and combat mob censorship. Recommendations include enforcing regulations to penalize violations against journalists, fostering trust in judicial processes, and implementing comprehensive measures within newsrooms to support and safeguard women journalists.

This research contributes to understanding mob censorship, highlighting how online violence against female journalists amplifies and manifests the pervasive physical violence and gender-based discrimination prevalent in Uganda. It paves the way for future research, urging a quantitative exploration of online harassment and inclusion of male journalists’ perspectives on the subject.

Read the full article here: “I thought You Are Beautiful”: Uganda Women Journalists’ Tales of Mob Violence on Social Media

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