Panel Five

Cyber security, journalism and electronic surveillance in Australia and Scotland

Angela Daly (presenting author), Diarmaid Harkin, Monique Mann, David McMenemy, Elaine Robinson

University of Dundee, Deakin University, University of Glasgow, University of Stirling

In this presentation we will give an overview of our comparative empirical research with practitioners in Australia and Scotland, funded by Deakin University and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. We carried out interviews in 2022 in both locations with a range of journalists, writers and legal professionals, asking for their views and experience on being surveilled, their cyber security practices and knowledge of and interaction with relevant legal frameworks in the respective jurisdiction on electronic surveillance powers, privacy and other human rights. Most of our findings are in line with the international literature on the awareness and impact of surveillance in journalism. However, some notable features or divergences can be found in our sample being reasonably well aware of cyber security threats as well as surveillance threats, and most if not all adopted some kind of tactics and approaches to keep themselves safe and secure (albeit with a lot of variation in what they actually did). We also saw significant concern expressed by the interviewees specifically about online harassment of journalists in Scotland. Surveillance is seen as part of increased government antagonism in Australia, while less of a day-to-day concern and is more part of the landscape in Scotland. This may have led to more use of encryption in Australia, and may be attributable as well to less strong human rights protections in Australia compared to Scotland. 

Managing risk to the media from emerging networked technologies

Anjuli Shere

Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy and University of Oxford

The consumer Internet of Things (IoT) poses unprecedented security challenges to the news media. My research considers how members of the press can improve their identification of, protection from, and resilience against threats from the IoT, focusing especially on democratic countries. My doctoral work has created a multi-piece toolkit that enables members of the press to identify threats from IoT devices to themselves and their work, and then identify the countermeasures best suited to their context.

My toolkit includes: A conceptual model to categorise IoT devices by types of environment (location). This model demonstrates to members of the media the scope and scale of where IoT devices may present threats, so that they can effectively evaluate the risks. A second conceptual categorisation explores threats to information, as well as related legal and physical threats to journalists and their work from the IoT. The third and main component of the toolkit is an interactive framework of countermeasures to the IoT threats to enable members of the media to decide how best to protect themselves. The countermeasures are linked to phases of the overarching editorial workflow, to ensure that their implementation is feasible and that they are clearly useful by and for specific role categories within the media.

The toolkit is also informed by this thesis’ comparative profiling of the privacy, security, and data protection policy and law environments in the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Taiwan, and Australia. These profiles, combined with the recommendations of academic, governmental and non-governmental experts, and synthesis of multiple disciplines of academic literature, ensure that the toolkit is versatile and realistic to help members of the media combat threats posed by the IoT to their societal function.

Digital Resilience Strategies for Journalists’ Online Harms

Michelle Ferrier (presenting author) and Purva Indulkar 

Media Innovation Collaboratory

Journalists are subjected to digital harms because of the nature of our work in shaping cultural narratives. Coordinated campaigns designed to discredit, dissuade, and destroy credibility in the press as a mirror of truth and power create friction and silence journalists. The function of the harassment and threats and intimidation is distraction — to let journalists flounder misdirect their energies in seeking remedy ad justice. The ultimate goal is silencing – to get journalists to self-censor, stop lines of inquiry and to distract and dissuade journalists from fulfilling their work. Oftentimes, the intimidation and threats cause women to consider leaving the profession entirely.

Recent strategies to combat online harassment and threats to journalists have put much of the burden on individual journalists to learn digital safety measures and practices and incorporate those routines into their work. However, journalists remain at risk. They report that they are loathe to tell employers of the threats they receive online and off, because of the fear of retribution and other negative consequences. Instead, they attempt to field the ongoing reputation damage and resulting trauma on their own. Women journalists, particularly journalists of color, have borne the brunt of some of the most sustained attacks on the web. From their experiences, we’ve gleaned strategies for digital resilience and reputation repair that address the psychosocial and professional damage that comes from online threats and harms. Resilience is the ability to weather change and bounce back from trauma or failure. From these women and their narratives and tactics, we’ve illuminated ways in which these women journalists have navigated stressors, developed resilience and recovered from coordinated, sustained reputation attacks. We learn how these women dance with uncertainty and powerfully navigate digital spaces and our world with voice and grace.

Digital Authoritarianism in the Arab World: An Era of Journalistic Threats and Harassment 

Sahar Khamis

Department of Communication, University of Maryland, College Park

 When the Arab Spring uprisings erupted in 2011, they were initially accompanied by high hopes for democratic transformation (Lynch, 2012), coupled with an equally high trust in the democratizing and liberating potentials of digital media (Khamis and Vaughn, 2011; El Tantawy and Wiest, 2011). However, twelve years later, the Arab region suffered from serious backlashes in political freedom leading to tightening the governmental grip over the media and shrinking the margin of media freedom, amid an escalating wave of authoritarianism, in general, and digital authoritarianism, in particular (Khamis, 2019; 2020). These crackdowns on Arab journalists included various digital threats and online harassments, such as shutting down websites and hacking, blocking, trolling, and sabotaging journalists who express opposition to their authoritarian regimes. Other forms of harassment included online shaming and character assassination, which are particularly more damaging to Arab women journalists (Khamis and El-Ibiary, 2022). Moreover, the Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated many of these threats and challenges making Arab journalists’ performance of their roles even more dangerous. These included the issuance of cybercrime laws which enabled governments to arrest journalists under the charges of spreading misinformation. They also included shutting down more websites and tracing journalists through surveillance and contact tracing apps. My presentation will highlight these digital threats and escalating risks of online harassment facing Arab journalists today, through providing examples from different Arab countries.

Navigating Digital Perils: Ensuring Journalists’ Safety in Albania’s Information Landscape

Blerjana Bino (presenting author) and Erjon Curraj

Center Science and Innovation for Development (SCiDEV)

Digital safety is a critical issue for journalists in Albania as demonstrated by our work with outlets in the country and independent reports on media freedom and safety of journalists. Some of the key issues are: Online harassment and threats: Journalists in Albania are at risk of online harassment and threats from various sources, including government officials, political parties, and powerful economic groups; Hacking and cyberattacks: Journalists’ devices and online accounts have been targeted by hackers and cybercriminals (Safe Journalists Report 2022); Surveillance and monitoring: Journalists in Albania may be subject to surveillance and monitoring by government agencies, particularly those who are critical of the government or cover sensitive topics; Digital literacy and training: Journalists in Albania lack customised training on digital safety and security, including how to recognize and respond to online threats, how to use secure communication tools, and how to protect their online accounts and devices; Support and resources: Journalists in Albania have limited access to support and resources for digital safety, including legal assistance and counseling services. This paper presents an overview of the key issues journalists face and recommendations on how to move forward. 

Key words: Digital safety, online harassment, gender disinformation, surveillance, media landscape, Albania