‘Doesn’t stop’: The bad reason behind attacks on Leigh Sales
Victorian political reporter Rachel Baxendale received death threats earlier this month.
The reason? She dared to do her job by asking questions of Premier Daniel Andrews at one of his daily coronavirus press conferences.
A late Friday night thread on Twitter abuse and Victoria’s COVID-19 crisis, for those who are interested #springst 👇🏼— Rachel Baxendale (@rachelbaxendale) August 7, 2020
The veteran reporter for The Australian was right to be "mystified" by the disgusting response because, as she put it correctly, there was nothing unreasonable or controversial about the line of questioning.
Less than a month earlier, ABC 7.30 host Leigh Sales shared "a fraction" of the abuse she received online for doing her job - all of it was sexualised.
"Female politicians, journalists, public figures get this non-stop," she wrote.
As I sometimes do to keep a spotlight on this, I just spent a few minutes collecting a fraction of the sexualised abuse I get every time I interview a Prime Minister - female politicians, journalists, public figures get this non-stop. pic.twitter.com/YPCYrmvPZp— Leigh Sales (@leighsales) July 22, 2020
That's true. But it's also true that attacks on female journalists are increasing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Why? Journalist, cyberhate expert and author of Troll Hunting Ginger Gorman has some ideas.
"At the moment there's a perfect storm when it comes to cyberhate," she told news.com.au.
"We are all at home more and spending far more time online that we normally would. That's the first factor. The second factor is that trolls often target big news events because there's already community traction and concern around these events or issues, and perpetrators are more likely to get attention this way. This plays into their narcissism.
"Sadly, the predator trolling that Rachel Baxendale has received is not unique.
"Cyberhate against female public figures - such as journalists, politicians and athletes - is emerging as a democratic threat around the globe. It is silencing women's voices and making them unable to do their jobs and participate in public life."
WHO ARE THE TROLLS?
Gorman has more experience than most when it comes to trolling. Over five years, she spoke to psychologists, trolling victims, law enforcement, academics and trolls themselves as part of the research for her book.
So she knows who they are and why they do what they do.
"Misogynistic trolling such as this is usually but not exclusively perpetrated by young white men who operate in syndicates or groups. It is highly organised," she said.
"These men police discourse with themselves at the top of the food chain. They are trying to maintain what they perceive it to be their rightful place in the hierarchy, and they attack anyone that they consider that may threaten this position - this includes women, people of colour, disabled people and people who are LGBTIQ+.
"From my research, I can also tell you that women get attacked by predator trolls more viciously if they are taking up space in domains that have traditionally been occupied by men. Journalism is one of those professions.
"Trolls attack where they believe to be person's weakest point. So, this is why women are always attacked online in ways that are violent and sexual. With female targets, predator trolls often threaten their children too."
Nationally representative polling from The Australia Institute (TAI) found in 2018 that 44 per cent of women and 34 per cent of men have experienced one or more forms of online harassment.
"This is equivalent to 8.8 million Australians experiencing harassment online," Gorman says.
"Having said this, women get attacked in ways that are more violent, sexual and sustained than men."
Which is exactly what Sales and Baxendale experienced and were brave enough to call out. But they should not be responsible for making it stop.
"The social media companies - private corporations that make billions of dollars from our data - have created town squares where we are coming to grave harm and they have no duty of care to the public," Gorman says.
"They are profiting from our distress. The Australian Government needs to legislate so platforms are accountable. And law enforcement must be resourced and trained to deal with this.
If you have experienced sustained threats or threats of violence, call triple-0. Help is also available at esafety.gov.au
Originally published as 'Doesn't stop': Why Leigh was attacked