The year of resilience

“It would be understandable for journalists to retreat altogether from engaging with people online, in an attempt at self protection. This would however help these antagonists achieve their goals of undermining trust in journalism and reporting.”

In 2018, journalists will continue to face threats from antagonists who — for political motivations, driven by a desire to create chaos, or both — are trying to disrupt and distract them from their work.

Fortunately, journalists will be able to respond to these threats more effectively in the coming year, thanks to an increased level of support and preparation from their newsrooms.

Among other things, senior newsroom editors will:

— create new provisions and training that help protect staff against doxing, harassment, and threats

— learn to recognize symptoms of secondary trauma and PTSD in their colleagues, and share that information widely

— be much more careful about amplifing members of extremist fringe groups, who often mask their true beliefs in return for access and soft-focus profiles

— increase the diversity of the newsroom, thereby increasing the number of people among the staff who have experienced such abuse and antagonism, and can be tasked as part of their job to help design effective responses

— make sure that everyone is aware that a casual email, a seemingly off-the-record phone conversation, or an offhand chat in a bar, might be a part of a deliberate sting to discredit the organization and get the journalist fired

— share lessons and best practices with other organizations, in order to develop stronger responses

Freelancers, who act in the name of the organization but with far fewer protections, will also be covered by this work.

At the same time, journalists will learn how to balance these actions with the need to continue to engage with, and listen to, their actual communities.

In the face of such attacks, it would be understandable for journalists to retreat altogether from engaging with people online, in an attempt at self protection. This would however help these antagonists achieve their goals of undermining trust in journalism and reporting, by further distancing journalists from the lived experiences of their audiences.

Thankfully, there are now tools (including ours) that encourage audience engagement in more flexible and protected spaces than social media platforms, tools that help journalists build deeper connections with the communities that they serve, while being less vulnerable to abuse. By creating strong bonds with their communities, we will also see community members step up to help in the fight against these negative forces.

In 2018, we can expect the efforts of the antagonists to increase. This is the year that journalism responds by taking these threats seriously, and by learning how to protect itself.

Andrew Losowsky is the project lead of The Coral Project at Mozilla.

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