iWatch Africa’s second-quarter tracking of online abuse and harassment directed at journalists and rights activists in Ghana has established that journalists; Manasseh Awuni Azure, Nana Aba Anamoah and Justice Kweku Annan were the most abused and harassed in the cyberspace of Ghana for the period April 2020 – to June 2020.
iWatch Africa, with support from the International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) is tracking, documenting and analysing threats against journalists, media workers and rights activists within the digital ecosystem in Ghana.
For the reporting period, circa 2,000 separate instances of online abuse and harassment were identified and analysed by iWatch Africa’s digital rights desk. This represented over a 200 percent increase in the total number of tracked instances of online abuse compared to the first quarter of 2020.
The identified journalists and rights activists, numbering 57, who were targeted in these instances of abuse were also affiliated with 66 entities in Ghana.
Online harassment of journalists is a phenomenon that has prompted growing concern in recent years. Journalists who report on contested social and political issues increasingly find themselves the target of abuse through social media, online comment fora and other online means, in some cases including violent threats of death and rape.
Most abused journalists online (2nd Quarter, 2020)
The data showed that Manasseh Azure Awuni, a freelance investigative journalist in Ghana, was the most abused journalist during the period with 22 per cent of recorded online abuses directed at him out of a total 2,128 tracked instances of abuse.
Net2 TV presenter, Justice Kweku Annan, is second most abused journalist online, with 15.4 percent of all recorded abuses targeting him within the period. Nana Aba Anamoah, acting General Manager of GH One TV, is the third most abused journalist online, receiving 13.1 per cent of all instances of abuse.
Other notable journalists who were also victims of abuse and harassment online include; Serwaa Amihere, Bridget Otoo, Paul Adom Otchere, Nana Ama Agyemang Asante, Anas Amereyaw Anas etc.
In all, our data showed that 57 journalists and rights activists received at least one form of abuse online during the period.
The chart below illustrates the ranking of journalists and abuse received within the digital ecosystem of Ghana.
Forms of online abuse experienced by journalists and human rights activists
The study also identified 2,687 instances of online abuse and harassment. Sending intimidating, threatening or offensive messages constituted the majority of tracked violations with 88.5 per cent instances identified, an increase of 8 per cent compared to the first quarter of 2020. This also meant that nine out of ten journalists and human rights activists tracked received intimidating, threatening or offensive messages online.
Online harassment campaigns also represented the second most adopted form of online abuse deployed against journalists and rights activists constituting 14.8 percent of all identified forms of abuse. The data also showed that two out of ten journalists and rights activists receive online harassment campaigns every quarter in a year.
The chart below illustrates the forms of online attacks deployed against journalists and rights activists.
Gender and Online Abuse
iWatch Africa tracked 57 journalists and rights activists in the second quarter of 2020, recording a total of 2,128 online abuses targeting these two groups. The male to female ratio of tracked journalists and rights activists was 3:1; which is a reflection of the broader gender imbalance within the media industry in Ghana. But while the number of male journalists tracked was three times more than their female counterparts, 46 per cent of the total number of online abuses was directed at female journalists and activists.
Although retaliation for the content of professional output is common to all journalists, many female media professionals have to deal with the kind of hate comments men will never have to stomach, messages about their appearance, gender, and sexuality. In some cases, this abuse is seen to form part of an organised campaign led by political or other interest groups to silence critical discussion.
Our data also showed that whereas the ratio per male to digital abuse was 1: 28; meaning, one male journalist to 28 abuses, the ratio of a female journalist to digital abuse was 1:61. This meant that one female journalist was susceptible to 61 abuses online during the period.
An example below of how a female journalist, Nana Aba Anamoah was targeted based on her gender and sexuality:
A recent study by Trollbusters and the International Women’s Media Foundation found that around 40 percent of the female journalists they interviewed had stopped writing about stories they knew would be lightning rods for attacks.
Around 30 percent indicated they had considered leaving the journalistic profession altogether as a result of the effect online abuse had had on them.
Where do abuses happen?
The study showed that 2,263 instances of online abuse directed at news organisations, journalists and rights activists were recorded across five main digital platforms operating in Ghana. These platforms include; Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and news platforms (blogs and websites).
Twitter remained the dominant platform, where abuses and harassment took place. 63.9 percent of all tracked instances of abuse took place on Twitter, whereas 13.8 per cent of violations took place Youtube. The chart below illustrates the breakdown of platforms where digital abuse and harassment occurred in the second quarter of 2020.
Social media websites and applications have increasingly become the means for communicating in our increasingly technological and interwoven world. These platforms have enabled users to create and share contents instantaneously across the globe, but the anonymity and ease these digital platforms offer is also exploited by nefarious groups and individuals to stifle, abuse and threaten the free speech of rights activists and journalists.
From the study, iWatch Africa can conclude that Ghana’s digital ecosystem is not free from abuses and for that matter requires a policy response to promote cyber hygiene so that the full benefits of the digital ecosystem can be realised.
iWatch Africa will continue through its digital rights campaign to highlight the excesses in the digital ecosystem of Ghana. Our ultimate goal is to work closely with CHRAJ and other key stakeholders to develop protocols for community management and content forum moderation, and legal support for journalists and rights activists to ensure that sustainable policies are put in place to protect everyone operating in the digital space.
Writing by Gideon Sarpong and Moro Seidu, Data analysis by Moro Seidu, Editing by Henry Kyeremeh, Data by iWatch digital desk | iWatch Africa | Follow @iwatchafrica