Description of the project

Starting in late 2014, the International Press Institute (IPI)’s Ontheline programme has been systematically collecting, analysing and publishing quantitative and qualitative data related to online harassment in various countries, providing powerful evidence of the potential for online harassment to silence and neutralize critical voices.

The central aim of this specific branch of the Ontheline project, the Ontheline Platform for Newsrooms, is to collect and share resources and best practices for media outlets and journalists to prevent, counter and address online harassment and abuse against them. In providing these tools to newsrooms, it aims to not only counter the negative personal and professional impact of online abuse on journalists but also help prevent self-censorship arising from online attacks that threatens the public’s access to the news. 

The measures contained on this Platform are based on data collected by the International Press Institute (IPI) in the course of in-person visits to 45 newsrooms in five European countries – Finland, Germany, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom – between April and December 2018.

The Platform reflects findings from interviews with more than 110 editors, journalists and community managers as well as additional conversations with legal experts, civil society representative and academics. In addition, a total of eight focus groups with female journalists and freelancers were held to discuss measures for countering attacks affecting those groups specifically and preventing both the emotional and professional impact.

The selection of the countries was guided by the desire to gather the experience of media organizations and journalists operating in different sociocultural and political realities. Interviews were conducted with both large and small newsrooms with different resource levels available as well as with newsrooms operating in both larger and smaller cities.

Information about newsroom measures to counter online abuse was collected in four principal areas: pre- and post-moderation mechanisms for both on-site comments and social media posts; newsroom structures and mechanisms designed to promote a culture of online safety; protocols for assessing and responding attacks; and the roles and responsibilities of newsroom actors involved in these areas.

In addition, the platform focuses on specific measures for female journalists and freelance journalists, a reflection of the specific challenges these groups face. Female journalists have been shown to receive different and more vicious online abuse than their male colleagues. Freelancers typically have fewer resources to turn to than staff journalists when it comes to online harassment and frequently lack access to institutional support.

The involvement of a broad range of actors – especially states and tech companies – is needed to tackle a press freedom problem that is of great importance to open and democratic societies. Newsrooms also have a role to play in ensuring the safety of their journalists and these measures can help them effectively do so.

List of media and other organizations that contributed to this project

Finland: Åbo Underrättelser, Iltalehti, Ilta-Sanomat, Maaseudun Tulevaisuus, Turun Sanomat, Turkulainen, Helsingin Sanomat, Uusi Suomi, Yle; Journalists Union of Finland; freelance focus group

Poland: Do Rzeczy, Gazeta Wyborcza, Krytyka Polityczna,, Polityka, Res Publica Nowa; freelance focus group

Germany: ARD, Deutsche Welle, Deutsche Presse Agentur (DPA), Spiegel Online, ZDF; Deutsche Presserat; Hostwriter

Spain: Cadena SER, Catalunya Ràdio,, El Español, El Mundo, El País, La Vanguardia, La Sexta TV, Público, RTVE; Federation of Journalist Unions (FeSP), Union of Journalists of Catalonia; freelance focus group

United Kingdom: BBC, The Daily Mirror, The Guardian, Reach PLC, Reuters, The Telegraph, The Times; National Union of Journalists (NUJ); freelance focus group

IPI thanks the many individual journalists, editors and media experts from the above organizations who provided their time and expertise.

The production of this platform was made possible with the financial support of: