It was a vile call for an attack on journalists, but like all abuse of power it manifested more acutely in gendered and racist ways.
“Play dirty,” exhorted Maxime Bernier, the populist boss of the People’s Party of Canada, to his base as he tweeted out the email addresses of three journalists who had sought comment about his party’s ties to the far right.
On cue, the three journalists were heaped with abuse. Misogynistic, Islamophobic abuse.
A week or so later the vitriol has only ratcheted up. Canada was the leading country in the world for abuse against female journalists in September, according to the international advocacy group, Coalition for Women in Journalism, with at least 19 women targeted by organized troll campaigns.
On Oct. 1, at least half a dozen of my colleagues, mostly of colour, came forward to share the threats of violence, sexual assault and death that they received.
A landmark report by UNESCO in April titled “The Chilling” revealed that online attacks against women journalists are prevalent, organized and linked with disinformation and populist politics. And they’re leaking offline into real life.
In the Trumpian era of mistrust, I consider journalists the canaries in the coal mines of hate. What we face spills into other sectors — academia, education and advocacy, for instance.
But unlike other sectors, the news media has two unique abilities: one is to highlight these risks. The other is to ensure its own coverage doesn’t normalize social hatred. It’s the hand-wringing around the latter that carries the danger of what I call “the invisible chilling.”
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