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Politics, Gender Key Triggers for Online Abuse in Poland

New IPI report examines newsroom measures for protecting journalists from digital harassment.

by The International Press Institute 10 October 2018

The International Press Institute (IPI), a Vienna-based global press freedom organization, launched a new report earlier this month on online abuse against journalists in Poland, identifying domestic politics, refugees, Polish-Jewish history, and gender issues as the topics most likely to attract threatening and hateful messages.

 

IPI conducted a fact-finding mission to Poland in June 2018 as part of its Ontheline project, which aims to explore and share best practices implemented by newsrooms in Europe to tackle online harassment against their journalists. The project also includes visits to Spain, Finland, Germany, Sweden, and the UK.

 

In visits to newsrooms of various sizes in Warsaw, IPI found that while awareness of online harassment as a serious threat to press freedom is growing, community managers and moderators are frequently overwhelmed by the vastness of the problem and journalists are often forced to rely on informal networks of support. Still, several leading media, including prominent daily Gazeta Wyborcza, are increasingly experimenting with methods of shielding their reporters from abuse. Successful strategies carried out by Polish newsrooms will later be shared together with models from other European news outlets on a new Ontheline web resource platform.

 

As in other countries analyzed by IPI, female journalists in Poland face particularly vicious attacks. Female journalists who participated in an IPI focus group recounted receiving heinous death and rape threats, with one journalist – mistakenly identified by a reader as Jewish – being told she would leave Poland “through a chimney” in Auschwitz.

 

 

Journalists interviewed by IPI also described the toll that online harassment had taken on their work and broader lives. Many said they now chose to keep a lower profile online, and some admitted to thinking twice about covering certain topics. One journalist described the experience of harassment as a “feeling of being punched in the stomach.”

 

Lukasz Lipinski – editor of Polityka.pl, the online version of one of Poland’s leading newsmagazines – said social media in Poland had been taken over by political fighting and troll attacks on journalists.

 

“If you publish something not to the liking of some political party, you don’t have a discussion from this party, but [rather] you get a troll attack,” he said. “It’s obvious that it’s orchestrated and paid people are doing their job [here].”

The International Press Institute is a global network of editors, publishers, and leading journalists dedicated to defending press freedom and promoting quality, independent journalism. The research above was conducted during a week-long IPI visit to Poland in June as part of IPI’s Ontheline project, which seeks to raise awareness about the impact of online attacks on press freedom as well as collect and share strategies developed by newsrooms to protect journalists from the phenomenon. See previous reports on online harassment of journalists in Spain and Finland.

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