Trial spotlights need to prosecute trolls who threaten journalists

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) welcomes the trial of two men on a charge of harassing French journalist Nadia Daam online – which begins in a Paris criminal court today – but points out that most cases of cyber-harassment of journalists do not result in prosecutions.

Daam is calling for “fair but firm” sentences for the two defendants, who were among a total of seven persons identified by police investigators after she filed a complaint last November about the online threats she received as a result of a report by her on Radio Europe 1 criticizing online trolls.

“The point is to show that there are real people tapping the keys,” Daam’s lawyer, Eric Morain, told RSF. “When Nadia Daam gets death threats, it’s not in any way virtual for her. And it will not in any way be virtual for her harassers, when they appear in court in the flesh. This is when virtual ends and real starts.”

Online collusion to gag journalists

The many other journalists still waiting for their cyber-harassers to be prosecuted include Julie Hainaut, a Lyon-based freelancer who writes for Le Petit Bulletin, a weekly about Lyon culture. She was found herself at the centre of an exceptionally violent online media storm last September after reporting that the owners of a new cocktail bar called “La Première plantation” (The First Plantation) had spoken approvingly about the colonial era.

“I was inundated with insults and threats,” she told the newspaper Libération. “They are looking for my address (...) I find it hard to breath. I can hardly sleep. I’m afraid.” She received a letter of support from interior minister Gérard Collomb and filed three complaints. But nothing ensued.

“I feel that no one is listening to me,” says Hainaut, who received further threats in March. And filed another complaint.

“We call for a thorough investigation into the online threats received by Julie Hainaut,” said Elodie Vialle, the head of RSF’s Journalism and Technology desk. “At a time when the authorities are legislating on sexist and sexual violence, including cyber-harassment, it is essential that they understand the gravity of these new threats to journalists. The aim of such online collusion – including campaigns of insults and threats, and the posting of hacked personal information with the aim of causing harm – is to silence journalists.”

RSF is seeing more and more cases of online harassment. It exists in almost all countries and above all affects women journalists and investigative journalists.

RSF recently called on the authorities in India to protect Rana Ayyub, a woman investigative reporter who has been the target of online harassment campaigns by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s troll armies.

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Updated on 05.06.2018