How newsrooms can use CAOV resources to protect journalists from online abuse

For too long, journalists have endured constant harassment, creating a culture of silence that results in inadequate support for both staff and freelancers. The Coalition Against Online Violence aims to strengthen the ecosystem of support to address online violence, but the duty of care falls to newsrooms to protect their journalists. 

What does it look like to use the Coalition’s resources as a media organization? Today, we’re spotlighting the work of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, a CAOV member focused on protecting staff and freelancers from online attacks. 

​​This month, we interviewed Nicolle White, the social media wellbeing advisor at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). From across the world, she shared how she’s implemented recommendations from advocacy organizations in the CAOV in her newsroom. 

 This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 
Can you tell me about your role at ABC and how you work to combat online violence at your news organization?
What we really try to do is to bolster resilience against online violence. I’ve been in the role for about three years now, and first we looked at what are the processes we have for when staff experience online abuse, from putting in extra security measures to liaising with the police to making sure that we have adequate psychological support. We have an Employee Assistance Program, and I’ve trained some of those practitioners in what online abuse looks like, and we also have a peer support program and a trauma program for more specific psychological support for staff who have experienced trauma as a result of their role. We also train managers so they’re creating an environment where staff feel comfortable to speak about their online experiences.
That’s broadly how we respond, and I’ve certainly leaned on the Coalition Against Online Violence to create research and evidence-based resources to support staff and prepare when the risk is high. How can we prepare staff so that they’re as sheltered as they can be or at least empowered to step away and disengage?
What is one common misconception about online violence that you work to disprove?
It’s not a common misconception exactly, but it’s the nature of coming into a role that hasn’t been done and trying to get staff and managers to prioritize this when they’re commissioning content — instead of being reactive, being proactive. I think we’re getting there. I get so excited anytime an executive producer calls me weeks out from a show and says, “We’ve got this happening, and we’re concerned about this.”
This year, we have had some high-profile media cases of staff experiencing online abuse, and that’s been — for lack of a better term — a kick up the bum for people across the ABC to take this more seriously.
How would you like to collaborate with CAOV members in the future?
Advocacy isn’t possible for us because of our charter. But we’d love to be involved in new research, if you’re looking into what’s working or what’s not working in newsrooms. The Australian context can often be missed in research, and I would love to see that reflected more. If you’re doing research or looking at case studies, get in touch. It’s something our journalists are used to talking about and they want to feel empowered so that their own experiences aren’t in vain.
We also have a vote to change our constitution to recognize Indigenous Australians, and that’s obviously been a really hard time, especially for our First Nations journalists. But if anyone has advice about covering big breaking news or anything similar in other countries, I would love to hear it because it’s taking a strain psychologically and through online abuse as well.
Another thing that’s part of the work I do is supporting audience-facing staff. Our moderators experience significant exposure to harm, but they have less of a voice because they don’t have that large platform. For the Coalition, I’m always happy to share resources about what we do to protect those staff and start that conversation.