Online harassment affects the well-being of Finnish journalists and their work communities
The study investigated the experiences of Finnish media professionals as targets of online harassment and hate and how their colleagues feel about witnessing harassment.
The study showed that more than 58% of the surveyed media professionals had experienced online harassment in the preceding six months. The researchers also noted that the victims actively responded to harassment using various means to stop the harasser; for example, they blocked the perpetrator from sending more messages, confronted them, or reported the incident to the police. As a passive mode of conduct, the study found a way of dealing with emotions where the victim does not try to change the harassment situation directly, but may resort to, for example, counselling or self-censorship.
The findings show that proximity to the victim is associated with increased anxiety among bystanding colleagues. The media professionals’ reactions were also influenced by the frequency of their own public appearances. The nature of harassment played a role as more severe and frequent harassment elicited stronger reactions.
The study found that general and professional well-being were associated with different reactions.
“The associations between well-being and responding to online harassment are an understudied but crucial topic,” says Doctoral Researcher Magdalena Celuch from Tampere University.
“Our findings suggest that having certain reactions to online harassment may have a mixed effect on well-being. Firmer conclusions require further research, but the results that we just reported offer important information for any practitioners dealing with the prevention of and intervention in online harassment,” Celuch continues.
Online harassment has widespread negative consequences
According to the study, serious online harassment may cause anxiety among bystanders especially when the targeted individual is a colleague or a member of the same work community.
The researchers contemplate the silencing effect of harassment as it may even lead to professionals changing jobs, refraining from public debate, and exercising self-censorship.
“The adverse effects of online harassment do not end with the targeted individuals but affect the public debate more widely. The results of our project show that too many professionals encounter online harassment because of their job,” Professor of Social Psychology Atte Oksanen emphasises.
The study involved 695 media professionals who responded to a survey on their experiences of online harassment. The Hate and Public Sphere project was funded by the Helsingin Sanomat Foundation (2020–2022).
The research was reported in
Celuch, M., Latikka, R., Oksa, R., & Oksanen, A. (2023). Online Harassment and Hate Among Media Professionals: Reactions to One’s Own and Others’ Victimization. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly. https://doi.org/10.1177/10776990221148987
Professor Atte Oksanen
atte.oksanen [at] tuni.fi
Researcher Magdalena Celuch, magdalena.celuch [at] tuni.fi
Cyberhate | Tampere Universities (tuni.fi)