1. Research Project Title

Global Study into the incidence and impacts of online violence against women journalists, and effective measures to combat the problem

Executive summary  

This research project is undertaken in partnership with the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), which is operating under a research commission to UNESCO. It serves as an umbrella study drawing on research commissioned into online violence against women journalists (including political actors and human rights defenders who practice journalism) globally. Field research for this project consists of a global online survey targeting women journalists and key stakeholders (e.g. news and civil society organisations), secondly we will conduct interviews with women journalists and key stakeholders. 

  1. Invitation to participate

You are being invited to take part in a research project about the impacts of online violence against women journalists and methods of countering it. By ‘online violence’ we mean the following: abuse that involves threatening language (in particular of a gendered, racist or bigoted nature, including forms of hate speech); threats of violence or physical harm; threats of sexual violence; harassment (which could include ‘cyberstalking’, frequent and/or unwanted advances, ‘pile-ons’, systematic targeting such as orchestrated harassment campaigns designed to unnerve or silence you etc); digital security attacks (such as hacking, spoofing, doxxing etc designed to breach your privacy or expose your data).

Before you decide whether or not to participate, it is important for you to understand why the research is being done and what it will involve. Please take time to read the following information carefully and discuss it with others if you wish. Ask us if there is anything that is not clear, or if you would like more information. Take time to decide whether or not you wish to take part. Thank you for reading this.

  1. What is the project’s purpose?

The aim of this international research project conducted by the University of Sheffield’s (https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/) Centre for Freedom of the Media (CFOM) (https://cfom.org.uk/) in partnership with the International Center For Journalists (ICFJ) (https://www.icfj.org/), under commission from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) (https://en.unesco.org/), is twofold: 

  1. It will involve a global online survey of women journalists (a group we are broadly defining to include those human rights defenders and political actors who undertake acts of journalism) focusing on their experiences of online violence and methods of countering it, along with desk research related to the national and regional contexts in which they operate (e.g. applicable legal and normative frameworks, industry initiatives, civil society interventions etc). The survey managed by the University of Sheffield will be conducted in English. However, UNESCO will also translate the survey into French, Spanish, Portuguese and Arabic and the distribution of these secondary language surveys which will be separately managed by ICFJ.
  2. It will also involve in-depth semi-structured interviews in the field (where COVID-19 restrictions permit) with a sample of women journalists (including those classed as human rights defenders and political actors) and key stakeholders (e.g. news organsiations and civil society actors) to help understand their experiences of online violence, and responses to the problem, in three countries. These countries are: the United Kingdom, the United States and Sweden. In parallel, other researchers commissioned by ICFJ-UNESCO will conduct replica research focused on seven other countries, but the University of Sheffield does not carry responsibility for these other country case studies. 

The aim is to publish results of this research in the form of: UNESCO publications; academic papers, books, book chapters, conference proceedings etc and; industry and civil society reports and related outputs. 

The overall aim of this project is to: 

  1. Map the prevalence, scale, and impacts of online violence against women journalists (including those categorised as human rights defenders and political actors) 
  2. Identify and explain effective measures to combat the problem 
  3. Elevate awareness around the problem of online violence against female journalists, (including human rights defenders and political actors) and their experiences in various countries.
  4. Present empirical evidence demonstrating its impacts on freedom of expression and women’s participation in journalism and commentary, politics, civil society and public debate; 
  5. Undertake a gap analysis of existing measures in response to this phenomenon
  6. Inspire more individuals to share their stories, and more organisations to work on this problem
  7. Make comprehensive recommendations for nation states, civil society, the news media and technology industries to respond more effectively to the problem; 
  8. Address identified research gaps regarding assessment and efficacy of responses to online violence against women journalists, and the absence of empirical research focused on countries in the Global South (e.g. the English language survey will be distributed through partner organisations in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Southern Africa etc)
  9. Seed ideas around technical, legislative, and normative solutions that can be built by ecosystem players individually and/or collaboratively. 

The context for this research project is a growing need to address the pernicious problem of online violence against women journalists – a problem which has been recognised by the United Nations as one requiring urgent intervention because of the implications for the safety of journalists and women’s active participation in democracy. 

The survey associated with this project will be conducted online, while the interviews will be recorded face-to-face or online (via video or audio apps), and they will be conducted by experienced journalists and researchers with significant expertise in the subject matter. 

The data collection through the survey and interviews will be carried out between August 17th 2020 and August 31st 2022 

  1. Why have I been chosen?

You have been chosen to participate in this survey or interview because you are in the target group of women journalists or those who work with them in news organisations, government or intergovernmental agencies, the legal or judicial community, or civil society groups. You may be a recipient of a newsletter targeting journalistic actors or a direct mail out from one of our partner organisations such as the Ethical Journalism Network, the Dart Centre, or the International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT). Alternatively, you may be a member of social media based groups associated with such organisations.  In total this project will recruit a yet to be determined number of survey participants and a minimum of 15 interviewees.  

  1. Do I have to take part?

It is up to you to decide whether or not to take part. If you do decide to take part as an interviewee, you will be emailed this information sheet to keep and be asked to sign a consent form. If you are only participating in the survey, you will be required to complete a consent section acknowledging that you’ve read this Participant Information Sheet. In either case you can still withdraw at any time from this project without any negative consequences. You do not have to give a reason. If you wish to withdraw from the research, please contact Julie Posetti (jposetti@icfj.org).   

  1. What will happen to me if I take part? What do I have to do?

If you choose to participate in the research project you will be asked to complete an online survey and/or respond to interview questions related to your experience of online violence and your responses to it. 

The survey and interviews will include questions about your experiences of online violence (as a target, or a person responsible for managing or responding to the problem). We are asking you for this information because it is crucial to know how the problem manifests in different countries, what kinds of responses have been made, what impediments inhibit action against the problem, what effective measures are emerging and what gaps exist in knowledge and redress. 

The interviews will be long-form and semi-structured. This means that you will be able to move the conversation in the direction that you think is most important, based on your experience, and it will allow the interviewer to respond instantly with follow-up questions based on the things you say. The interviews will consist of up to 20 questions and that should take around 45 minutes to an hour. The exact length of the interview will depend on your responses.

After the interview and upon agreement with you, if necessary we might get back to you to ask a few clarifying questions in relation to the responses you provide. If you opt to be identified in association with quotes we use, prior to publication we will give you the opportunity to check your quotes and confirm your consent to be identified.

The survey will ask questions related to the following eight categories: 1) screening questions which will establish whether you are a journalist and if you have experienced online violence or witnessed online violence against a woman journalist; 2) demographic questions which help us measure the levels of vulnerability to online violence within social groups and settings and to learn more about intersectional risks; 3) questions on your use of social media; 4) questions on your management of privacy and security online; 5) questions on your experience of gender-based online violence; 6) questions on the impacts you have experienced in connection with online violence; 7) questions on what kind of assistance you have sought in connection with your experience of online violence; and 8) questions clarifying if you would like to be identified in connections to the comments made in relation to the survey and if you are willing to be contacted by the researchers for potential follow-up.   

The survey will consist of approximately 60 questions that should take around 20 minutes to complete (depending upon the length of your responses to the limited number of comment based questions). Some questions will be open, but most will be multiple choice, or simply require yes or no answers.

The survey will be available online (accessible via a link) and shared via email and within professional networks. Once you have completed the survey, you will be asked to submit it to us by clicking a button at the end of the process.

  1. What are the possible disadvantages and risks of taking part?

Participants who have direct personal experience of online violence may experience some emotional or psychological discomfort while completing the survey or being interviewed, but in many cases, participants are likely to find this process cathartic or empowering because this issue is one which needs recognition and effective measures of response.  Any personal information shared through the interviews or survey (such as emails and telephone numbers) will be kept confidential, and no information that can link the interview respondent to the data provided will be shared or publicised unless you have explicitly opted in to be identified by name.

Please note that if you at any time feel that answering any of the interview questions could cause you or your organisation harm or risk, you are free to refrain from answering any single question without stating a reason. Once you have completed the interview we will also ask you if you would like us to publish your identity in relation to the responses you provide, or if you prefer to remain anonymous in any publication.

With regard to the online survey, most questions will be optional, allowing you to skip any that you feel uncomfortable answering. You will also be asked to explicitly opt in for identification if you would like to be named in association with any comments you provide, or if you would be comfortable with the researchers contacting you for follow-up interviews.

  1. What are the possible benefits of taking part?

Some participants in this kind of research find it empowering and cathartic to be given an opportunity to talk about their experiences of online violence and to provide feedback about responses to the problem. Regardless, you will be contributing to high level international research that will help inform responses to the problem by the UN, its Member States, and industry. We believe that this research is crucial because online violence is chilling women’s participation in journalism and public debate more broadly, with implications for democracy. This is a phenomenon recognised by the UN, industry, and civil society organisations as requiring critical attention on the development of effective measures of response.  

  1. Will my taking part in this project be kept confidential?

All the research data and information that we collect from you during the course of the research will be kept strictly confidential (unless you explicitly consent to be identified) and it will only be accessible to members of the research team. You will not be able to be identified in any reports or publications unless you have given your specific consent for this. If you agree to us sharing the information you provide with other researchers (e.g. by making it available in a data archive) then your personal details will not be included unless we have explicitly received your consent for this.

  1. What is the legal basis for processing my personal data?

According to data protection legislation, we are required to inform you that the legal basis we are applying in order to process your personal data is that ‘processing is necessary for the performance of a task carried out in the public interest’ (Article 6(1)(e)). Further information can be found in the University of Sheffield’s Privacy Notice: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/govern/data-protection/privacy/general.

  1. What will happen to the data collected, and the results of the research project?

The interview responses will be kept securely within the University accessible only to the researchers affiliated with this project. Data compiled from the analysis of the interview responses will be kept in a spread-sheet and the responses to the interviews will be anonymised. The data analysis and research findings will be made published in reports by UNESCO and ICFJ. They will also be carried in industry and academic publications. If you choose to be identified in association with your quotes, you will be given a chance to review these quotes in context and re-approve them prior to publication. No identifiable personal data will be stored beyond the life of this project (except in published materials where explicit consent for identification has been granted). All research data, including personal identifiable data, will be stored for a minimum retention period of three years up to a maximum retention period of five years after publication or public release of the work of the research. At a point when the data is no longer required for the research, it will be destroyed. Up until that point, all research data and personal identifiable data including email addresses will be kept securely within the University.

Due to the nature of this research it is very likely that other researchers may find the data collected to be useful in answering future research questions. We will ask for your explicit consent for your data to be shared in this way. The analysed data will therefore be kept and stored for the purpose of future research until it is no longer needed. 

  1. Who is organising and funding the research?

The Centre for Freedom of the Media, the Department of Journalism Studies at the University of Sheffield is organising this research under commission from the International Center For Journalists. The research is funded by UNESCO – the United National Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

  1. Who is the Data Controller?

The University of Sheffield will act as the Data Controller for this study. This means that the University is responsible for looking after your information and using it properly.

  1. Who has ethically reviewed the project?

This project has been ethically approved via the University of Sheffield’s Ethics Review Procedure, as administered by the Journalism Studies department.

  1. What if something goes wrong and I wish to complain about the research?

In case of complaints related to this research project please contact the lead Researcher, Dr. Julie Posetti (jposetti@icfj.org) in the first instance. In case you need to report a serious adverse event occurring during or following your participation in this project or if you feel that your complaint has not been handled to your satisfaction you can contact the Head of the Department of Journalism Studies at the University of Sheffield, Professor Jackie Harrison (j.harrison@sheffield.ac.uk).

If your complaint relates to how your personal data has been handled, information about how to raise a complaint can be found in the University’s Privacy Notice: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/govern/data-protection/privacy/general.

  1. Contact for further information

In case you have any questions or wish to obtain further information about the project please contact:

Lead researchers:

Prof. Jackie Harrison, Head of Department, Department of Journalism Studies, j.harrison@sheffield.ac.uk 

Dr. Julie Posetti, Global Director of Research at the International Center for Journalist, jposetti@icfj.org   


Dr. Sara Torsner, Research Associate, the Centre for Freedom of the Media, Department of Journalism Studies, s.k.torsner@sheffield.ac.uk

Dr. Diana Maynard, Senior Research Fellow, Department of Computer Science, d.maynard@sheffield.ac.uk


The Department of Journalism Studies
Sheffield University
9 Mappin Street
Sheffield S1 4dt
United Kingdom
Phone: +44(0)114 222 2500

Finally, we would like to thank you for taking part in the project.