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Devising a trolling survival guide for journalism students

An AJE committee member is drafting guidelines to protect graduate journalists and journalism students from online trolls.

Claire Wolfe, head of journalism at the University of Worcester, delivered a research paper on the issue at the 4th World Journalism Education Congress (WJEC) in Auckland, New Zealand.

The paper – ‘Online trolls and the freedom of speech: Devising a survival guide for journalism undergraduates & new entrants to the media industry’ – focused on the need to offer graduate journalists and students advice for dealing with trolls.

Speaking after the conference in New Zealand, she said: “There was a lot of interest in my paper so I plan to make the help guide available on wiki as a working document for other experts to contribute to. There is a clearly a need for more guidance.

“I was asked to get involved in a UNESCO project involving this topic and hope that comes to fruition. It will involve working with an international team of journalism lecturers.”

Her research interviews revealed the extent of the problem, and prompted her to devise a ‘survival guide’ for journalists working with social media.

She added: “The growth of social has not been paralleled by the development of help and guidance for those involved in journalism.

“A number of interviews were carried out. I then canvassed students and realised that they were encountering difficulties in handling negativity online.”

“Some of the stories they recounted were quite shocking, and made me realise they needed to know how to deal with such comments before they occurred, rather than afterwards while reeling from the assault.

“It is important that those entering journalism and other related media roles are able to work effectively online and to know how to respond when targeted by trolls.”

“If not, they may shy away from encounters and try to self-censor their views.

“The impact of such censorship would impact on the concept of freedom of expression.”

Claire also refers to ‘acid tongued trolls’ who have managed to stifle online debate in some sectors, for instance in the case of US Popular Science magazine, which scrapped its comments sections, warning that ‘lively, intellectual debate’ and the ability to inform the public about science issues are under threat.