Image copyright PA Image caption The reporter has been blocked for eight years
An ethics graduate student has written a doctoral thesis looking at how and why the media treats women differently than men.
When Rachel Morgan was initially approached to do a research project about gender, she thought of studying the right to privacy and sexual harassment.
But research was halted after 20 years and four semesters when she was confronted with an unprofessional online smear campaign.
Rachel received over 1,000 threats of harm, threats of physical violence and numerous calls for her to commit suicide. She regularly found herself wondering whether she should report the abuse to police, but she knew that doing so would only make things worse.
Rachel went on to receive her PhD at the University of Westminster after years of research and 24 to 30 hours of academic presentations.
She has been barred from writing on the study since 2013.
Rachel’s thesis has been included in the Oxford Handbook of Humanitarian Journalism, making her one of only four researchers to be published under the title in the past ten years.
The faculty that published the book claimed that their decision to publish her paper was based on academic freedom and ethical criteria, even though Rachel has not completed her postgraduate work.
The book’s editorial board refused to discuss the issue in the annual ethics review for the ethical and academic conduct, although one editor admitted to news that the issue had come up.
My initial thoughts were ‘you’ve got to be kidding’
Rachel said the bullying forced her to quit her job as a Metro.com reporter in the US before the end of her studies.
She told Hack that once she joined the study as a researcher, she found evidence that the work was not being covered by mainstream news outlets.
“The output of reporters on-the-ground, especially women, was just not being covered by the news outlets,” she said.
Image copyright AP Image caption The abuse was almost exclusively targeted at women journalists
“In some parts of the world, women reporters were quoted much more prominently in the stories being covered by news sources than men – so that was obviously problematic.
“So [while I was on the study] I found that some people were absolutely playing the mainstream news game, but the rest of the questions about whether the reporting was targeted [or] whether it was just carried out by women writers – all these things became more problematic.”
Rachel told Hack that she started to get into the psychology of online harassment.
“Before, I had been thinking about the role of policing and a lot of people writing about the problem was focusing on policing online, which I was very interested in doing,” she said.
“But what the research showed me was that it’s not a matter of online policing. It’s a matter of online legitimacy and self-esteem in a sense.”
Image copyright AP Image caption The anonymous tweets using Rachel’s cover were penned by people known to the reporter
Rachel said that on top of what she was already doing, she felt that social media gave an environment where it was easier to target women for abuse.
The abuse of other women, she said, often led to “healthy debate” but started to spiral out of control when men responded and even created Facebook profiles or put up sites featuring other women being attacked.
After learning that there were no publicly accessible knowledge sources for what was happening on the internet, Rachel published an article in the Guardian which outlined some of the scenarios that she has experienced.
Hack asked her what she thought the most concerning aspect of online abuse of women reporters was.
“I would say the most problematic aspect, and probably the most concerning as a citizen, is that when I looked at what is normally discussed in the media, when I would look at opinion articles that these people would write about this issue, I just couldn’t find anything that told me about my situation.
“It’s a complete lack of information for me.
“What is interesting for me was that there was no statistics, there was no explanation, there was no support for what is happening to women reporters,” she added.
Image copyright AP Image caption Rachel started to see an increase in the number of people attacking her as she was active on social media
The anonymously-written tweets that Rachel has received are also rife with abuse.
She said that while she knows that it is hard to go up against anonymous text, it is especially hard to find a source who can give her a phone number.
“One of the things I found really worrying, and quite alarming, was that the harassment that was going on with me was happening very much behind closed doors.
“This was happening very much in the dark.