Women in journalism face barrage of harassment, abuse online

by | Dec 4, 2020 | News

When Evelyn Kwong and Jennifer Pagliaro start their workday and check their emails, they almost need personal protective equipment.

The Toronto Star journalists receive hate mail, racial slurs, and death threats. Pagliaro has been called a “crypto-Nazi.” Kwong received a message from someone hoping she be “raped to death.”

For women in journalism, such abuse is far from unusual.

Pagliaro, a Toronto city hall reporter for the Star, recently tweeted out some of the messages she had received from anonymous abusers calling her obscene names and predicting she will die alone.

TORONTO, ON - March 21   Logo style photos of Toronto Star City Hall reporterJennifer Pagliaro taken in their City Hall office.  These are for their newsletter.
March 21, 2019 Richard Lautens/Toronto Star

Jennifer Pagliaro, the city hall reporter for the Toronto Star, is all too familiar with the vicious comments female journalists receive every day. taken in their City Hall office.

“I think the more notoriety you get as a journalist, the bigger of a target you become,” she said. “That little blue checkmark (which Twitter issues), I think sometimes gives people the freedom to just say whatever they want to you. But I would say that it’s definitely gotten worse in the last few years.”

This is not just a local problem.

A recent global survey of 1,210 people by the International Center for Journalists (IFCJ) and UNESCO found a worrying surge in the number of cases involving online violence against women reporters.

Nearly 75 per cent of women respondents say they experienced online abuse, harassment, threats and attacks. The report found the threats often extended to family members. Further, of the women who responded to the November survey, 20 per cent said they had also been attacked offline.

Pagliaro said she receives more hate online than in person because of the anonymity social media provides. She has experienced some negativity in person, but they tend to be quick encounters.

Posting hateful comments online to make people aware of the abuse women journalists face for doing their jobs is seen as a first step in instigating change, and Pagliaro said she hopes more will come forward and tell their story.

“I think it definitely is comforting in the general sense to have that knowledge and to seek power to that and just feel like, they don’t have ownership over your day or your week or your life,” she said.

Kwong, a digital producer and breaking news reporter at the Star, said she has received threats along with abuse about her race and gender. Some abusers, their menace implied, wanted to know where she and her family lived.

Toronto Star reporter Evelyn Kwong said she's been the victim of harassment and threats on social media.

Toronto Star reporter Evelyn Kwong said she's been the victim of harassment, racist attacks and threats on social media.

Those comments scared her to the point where she scrubbed social media of any hint of her residence.

“We got a lot more of the hate mail than a lot of the male counterparts just for doing these crime stories,” she said. “But those messages I got recently were really racist, lots of racial slurs, and also stuff like, I hope you get raped to death, like that kind of stuff.”

Kwong told her superiors at the Star about the abuse she was receiving. She was urged to file a police report, which she did.

Both Pagliaro and Kwong said they’ve had to learn not to let hateful comments get to them.

They will step away from their screen, turn off notifications, spend time with people who care about them, and then brace themselves for what the next day’s inbox might contain.