Action required against online harassment
CANADA’s news editors, who employ 3,000 journalists from coast to coast, believe that free speech, journalistic freedom and a strong, healthy, commercially viable and fiercely independent media ecosystem are all essential to our democracy.
Canadians rely on their newspapers and news media to be their trusted sources of information, helping them make informed choices and holding people and institutions, including governments and businesses, accountable.
We hope that parliamentarians will come together and take meaningful action to tackle hate speech and other types of harmful content online, while ensuring that freedom of expression and open debate are recognized, preserved and protected.
We are among the main defenders of freedom of expression in the country. At the same time, as employers, we strive to provide a safe, healthy and inclusive working environment for our journalists. As companies that provide information and analysis, we also strive to protect our customers: the public who read our news and interact with us and their fellow readers.
As a business, the news publishing industry remains threatened by unregulated and unchecked social media and online communication service providers. At the same time, our journalists and readers are constantly confronted with prejudice online. Ask any reporter and they’ll tell you reviews come with the job. And rightly so.
But hate, harassment, and physical and online harm shouldn’t do it. It comes from the right, from the left and everywhere in between, and its victims too often are racialized women and journalists.
We are united in supporting our journalists and our editorial staff against those who seek to silence them and threaten their safety. Together, we will continue to advocate for industry-wide responses to end this behavior.
Journalists around the world face physical, legal and online harm. In addition to harassment from individuals, journalists face sophisticated smear campaigns to discredit them. These threats, and their potential impact on journalistic freedom of expression, have detrimental implications for society as a whole.
The findings of a survey conducted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and the International Center for Journalists into online violence against women journalists are alarming: 73% of women surveyed said they had been victims of online violence; 20 percent said they had been attacked or abused offline in online incidents; and 41% said they had been the target of online attacks that appeared to be linked to orchestrated disinformation campaigns.
The impact of this violence on mental health is sobering: 38 percent missed work; 11 percent left their jobs; and two percent have given up journalism altogether.
Like news publishers, online platforms organize content. They reap all the benefits of being a publisher, but on much more commercially advantageous terms. At present, however, they do not have the same responsibilities and are not held accountable in the same way that news publishers are in Canada. Indeed, they have allowed “fake news” and disinformation to proliferate around the world, and they have greatly benefited from it.
Big Tech has a societal obligation to moderate these activities, as does any news publisher. In the United States, Section 230 of the United States Communications Decency Act exempts them from any liability regarding the hosting of user-generated content and from any liability when they choose to remove such content. However, global companies operating in Canada are subject to Canadian law and must conduct themselves accordingly.
In principle, our journalists should enjoy the same protections in the online world as in the offline world. Therefore, we recommend that the Government of Canada explicitly recognize online threats against journalists directly in legislation.
At the same time, online platforms must act responsibly. First, they must act on reports of harassment from news editors and journalists within 24 hours. Second, they should invest in technology to detect online hatred against journalists. Third, they should detail online harms against journalists in their transparency reports.
Fourth, they should be held accountable through Canada’s libel, libel and hate laws, just as Canada’s news publishers are. Fifth, they should face economic sanctions if they do not comply with Canadian laws. Finally, they should prevent Internet trolls from “profiting” from the monetization of content that harms journalists.
As a society, we must do all we can to protect democratic expression, but that doesn’t mean we can’t protect journalists. All publishers, including internet intermediaries, should be held responsible for harmful content. Canada’s publishers stand with our journalists, who will not be silenced, and our readers, who want to be informed.
Jamie Irving is President and Paul Deegan is President and CEO of News Media Canada.