More than half of Quebec journalists say they’ve been victims of cyber harassment, causing some to avoid covering controversial topics, according to a study conducted by the culture and communications union FNCC-CSN.

“We find that the conditions for journalists have been deteriorating in a dramatic way for a few years, and cyberstalking is one of the components,” said FNCC president Annick Charette.

The study results were published Thursday, just a few days before World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

The study, conducted by Université du Québec à Montréa (UQAM) researchers Stéphane Villeneuve and Jérémie Bisaillon, involved a sample of 264 reporters, columnists and hosts.

Nearly 51 per cent of respondents said they’ve been bullied online in the past five years, especially on social networks; a higher percentage compared to other professions, according to the study authors.

The study found 80 per cent of cyberbullying to involve questioning the quality of a journalist’s work. While there’s a productive and healthy way to criticize journalism, tone is important, said Villeneuve.

“It always depends on how it’s said, and that’s often the difference between cyberbullying and critical debate.”

A majority of respondents said they’ve received offensive (76.5 per cent) and ridiculing (67.7 per cent) comments. A smaller proportion, 17.8 per cent, said they’d received threats to their physical wellbeing, and 7.2 per cent said they’d received death threats.

When aimed at women, the comments are more likely to be sexually suggestive. According to the survey, 90 per cent of the commenters are men in these cases.

These online attacks can have professional and personal impacts on journalists. Cyberbullying causes stress for nearly 42 per cent of respondents and incites anger in about a third.

There is also a loss of confidence and productivity. A total of 13.4 per cent of cyberbullying victims said they avoided covering certain controversial topics at work, and even considered quitting their jobs (8.2 per cent).

RAISING AWARENESS

The study authors proposed recommendations to deal with cyberbullying in journalism, such as raising awareness about the phenomenon and its consequences.

The report also suggests imposing stricter measures on harassers and “explicitly” including cyberstalking in the Labor Standards Act.

The FNCC also wants to see news workers included as a target group in future federal legislation dealing with online hate speech.

“I think this study puts a point on things, that there needs to be a dialogue with information organizations to have prevention and support, and also with the political community to reduce this type of impact,” said Charette.


This report was first published in French by The Canadian Press on April 28, 2022.


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