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2020
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7

The year of positive pushback

“This year, journalists, news organizations, and readers will find new ways to support and uplift journalists embattled by harassment.”

This will be the year of positive pushback. We have rightly worked to document the awful harassment of journalists, especially women and journalists of color. We have studies to prove it and ongoing studies to measure it.

Harassment happens online in comments sections and on social media; it also happens offline, sometimes with deadly consequences. This year, Freedom House gave its annual report on media freedom the subtitle of “a downward spiral.”

But more and more groups want to find positive ways to fight back, to not just accept this horrifying and deteriorating status quo. During the recent Canadian election, ParityBOT tried to combat every negative tweet against a female political candidate with a positive one. The positive tweets were generated through AI. This year, journalists, news organizations, and readers will find new ways to support and uplift journalists embattled by harassment. Researchers like Maite Taboada at Simon Fraser University have already started working on how to identify and promote constructive comments. News organizations will start to try these tools in their own comments sections. Readers and civil society organizations will get savvier at developing strategies to support harassed journalists.

Maybe, just maybe, journalists in positions of power and privilege will finally use those positions to lift up other voices. I admit that’s an optimistic prediction — but it is time to break the spiral of silence with a spiral of solidarity.

Heidi Tworek is assistant professor of international history at the University of British Columbia.

This will be the year of positive pushback. We have rightly worked to document the awful harassment of journalists, especially women and journalists of color. We have studies to prove it and ongoing studies to measure it.

Harassment happens online in comments sections and on social media; it also happens offline, sometimes with deadly consequences. This year, Freedom House gave its annual report on media freedom the subtitle of “a downward spiral.”

But more and more groups want to find positive ways to fight back, to not just accept this horrifying and deteriorating status quo. During the recent Canadian election, ParityBOT tried to combat every negative tweet against a female political candidate with a positive one. The positive tweets were generated through AI. This year, journalists, news organizations, and readers will find new ways to support and uplift journalists embattled by harassment. Researchers like Maite Taboada at Simon Fraser University have already started working on how to identify and promote constructive comments. News organizations will start to try these tools in their own comments sections. Readers and civil society organizations will get savvier at developing strategies to support harassed journalists.

Maybe, just maybe, journalists in positions of power and privilege will finally use those positions to lift up other voices. I admit that’s an optimistic prediction — but it is time to break the spiral of silence with a spiral of solidarity.

Heidi Tworek is assistant professor of international history at the University of British Columbia.

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