Nearly half of all Norwegian journalists and editors have experienced bullying during the past five years, and this applies to almost as many men as women. Twenty-five percent have been threatened, of whom the majority are men. Yet there are clear gender differences to be found in the online harassment.
"Women experience a more sexualized version of the harassment. They are called 'whore' instead of 'idiot,' and the bullying may evolve into rape threats," said Aina Landsverk Hagen, a researcher at the Work Research Institute (AFI), according to a press release.
Hagan believes that online harassment is a gendered phenomenon. That isn't to say that men are the bullies and women are the victims, but men are attacked for their opinions while women are faced with attacks about their appearance.
The harassment also varies by which medium the journalist works in, according to the press release. "Male journalists who write news commentaries receive more harassment than their female colleagues, while women who work within television receive twice as much harassment as men in the same line of work," Hagan said.
Bullying consists of personal offences, insults or persecution by sources, interviewees or audience. It is often emotionally unpleasant but not necessarily criminal. Harassment is defined as repeated bullying over time. Threats may be both indirect and direct by way of retaliation or revenge for utterances.
The sexual threats are what affect those who are targeted, said Hagan. It's a game of power. "The harassment is not necessarily effective because of the bullying itself, but because of the shock you get when you realize that it has nothing to do with your opinions as a public debater. You're hit from the side and you lose your footing," Hagen said.
So, why are women prime targets for sexual threats?
"It is a question of power, pure and simple," Hagan said. "It is not only men who are responsible for gendered harassment, and it is not always directed at women. It is about one group experiencing loss of status to another group. Bullying someone in a sexual manner is a highly effective master suppression technique. The bully is sure to hit his target. You have to be pretty thick-skinned not to be affected by it."
"Threats of rape is a sign of a status change between men and women. Women have acquired higher status as participants in the public debate. Some men obviously have a problem with that."
So, what can men and women do when faced with harassment or who witness online harassment?
1. "Stop calling them internet trolls."
"By calling the bullies trolls, we both dehumanize them and say that they have nothing to do with us. This is problematic, since it is phenomenon we have to deal with as a society," Hagan said.
2. Distinguish between the "the angry," "the crazy" and "the dangerous."
"'The angry' are people you can respond to, and perhaps even make them understand that you're a person who might get hurt by their utterances. Many experience that these bullies apologize when they are made aware of how their utterances are perceived. Harassment coming from 'the crazy' and 'the dangerous' had better be ignored, according to the journalists, since a reply often makes the bullying even worse," Hagan advises.
Hagan said bullying won't go away. Have you been cyber-bullied? How have you handled it? Leave your comments below.