Hate journalists on Twitter | Newspaper

The Twittersphere is a perfect place to spread information and comment. For journalists, it’s an ideal forum for exchange… provided they have a backbone strong enough to withstand countless hateful messages.

We spoke with Elizabeth Dubois, the owner of the University’s Policy, Communication and Technology Research Department, member of the Law, Technology and Society Research Center, professor of the Communication Department of the Faculty of Arts.

Why did you choose to study the phenomenon of hate against journalists on Twitter?

Negativity reigns supreme on the Internet. At the start of my project, all we knew was that journalists were the target of hate speech online. What we don’t know is how journalists deal with these situations. I wanted to know how they responded to these attacks and whether there were specific individuals or groups that were targeted.

How do you collect information on such a sensitive topic?

A combination of manual content analysis and interviews with journalists allowed us to gather a wealth of qualitative data and produce an in-depth summary. For manual analysis, we collected a sample of tweets mentioning journalists’ names and classified them according to the type of comment: positive, neutral, somewhat negative, or very negative.

We then combined this qualitative data with an automated method from a machine learning model we developed to analyze tweets mentioning journalists’ names. Since repeated readings of hateful and aggressive messages can be overwhelming and damaging to mental health, we use machine learning to speed up analysis and relieve the research team of this emotional burden.

What are your findings from the study?

In addition to interviewing journalists to broaden our view of the problem and place our research in the general conversation, we studied tweets published primarily in the context of the 2019 federal election.

We’ve found that mainstream media outlets are better supporting journalists, allowing them to outsource tweet management to a specialist IT or social media team or spend less time online doing their own work. Block or mute functions are very useful to ignore hate and harassing messages. It’s a different story for early-career or freelance journalists who don’t have the benefit of such resources and rely heavily on online interactions to get their work done.

How do you survive online hate and maintain your passion for journalism?

At the online event Journalists Confront Average Tweets: What It Means for Our Democracy, I interviewed Rosemary Barton, Fatima Syed and Mark Blackburn. I asked them: what keeps you going? How do you find your inner motivation? All three told me it was a desire to produce quality journalism. Despite the negative aspects surrounding the profession, quality journalism retains an important influence in our democracies and plays an important role for very specific groups. Knowing that their work makes a difference is a great motivation for journalists. In addition, there are technical solutions. Twitter and employer support measures block and mute functions, and the ability to distinguish messages of concern from those that should simply be ignored is essential.

And now?

I look forward to the next phase of the project, which will be to study the positive messages sent to journalists, as well as why and under what circumstances they are sent. There were several cases when members of the public found out about persistent attacks against the journalist and sent messages of support emphasizing the high quality of his work.

If you are interested in Professor Dubois’ work, listen to his podcast Wonks and war rooms (English).

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