Last year, Brazilian political journalist Patricia Campos Mello, who had previously reported from hot spots and conflict zones around the world, hired her first ever bodyguard in the wake of a relentless trolling campaign following her reporting on President Jair Bolsonaro. This “virtual lynching” and the self-censorship that results from coordinated online attacks against journalists can have a ripple effect that negatively impacts journalism and the ability to hold public officials and parties accountable.

Unfortunately for journalists, the use of targeted online hate and harassment campaigns to intimidate and silence individuals critical of the state is becoming increasingly popular, especially during elections. Journalists reporting on politics, corruption and crime are increasingly finding themselves in the crosshairs of state-sponsored harassment and disinformation campaigns, often helped by PR firms or state-inspired volunteers. A recent study found such operations in at least 28 countries.

Opening with a brief overview of the existing research and range of state trolling practices – from financing and coordinating, to hiring firms that have sprung up in more than 20 countries to focus specifically on social media manipulation, to inciting or endorsing – panelists will share their own experiences about what responses were helpful and what challenges remain. What are the roles of content moderation, government regulation, civil society partnerships, and private sector investment in confronting this challenge, and how do you strike the right balance? When government officials or political parties are behind the coordinated harassment, how can journalist respond and what role should social media platforms play in disabling these campaigns?

CPJ will build on last year’s session, leading a conversation to evaluate existing efforts and coordination, and seeking to identify best practices for how journalists can stay safe in the wake of harassment campaigns or state sponsored trolling. With a particular eye on elections, the panelists will unpack how best to combat online harassment and intimidation when covering political processes and transitions. This discussion will take a pragmatic approach to the question of what can be done to make elections not just free and fair, but also safe for the journalists covering them.

Organised in association with Committee to Protect Journalists.