Progetti di ricerca

ADVOOCATE - Addressing visual imagery in online harassment and/or offline abuse against women (photo-) journalists: Developing guidelines for comprehensive policies

Ambito disciplinare Macroarea 3

Area scientifica Area 16 - Scienze politiche e sociali

Tipologia finanziamento PROGETTI DI RICERCA DI ATENEO (Finanziamenti di Ateneo)

Tipo di progetto Internazionale

Stato progetto Concluso (archiviato)

Ruolo nel progetto Capofila

Responsabilità scientifica Coordinatore

Data avvio: 1 June 2019

Data termine: 31 August 2021

Durata: 24 mesi

Importo: 100.000€


University of Gothenburg


This study takes the definition of Violence Against Women (VAW) by the Council of Europe’s (CoE) Istanbul Convention, whose notion is used interchangeably with that of Gender-Based Violence (GBV), to address its main question: What is the place of visual imagery – still and moving images and even memes, to online harassment against women (photo-) journalists, i.e., journalists and photojournalists, and under which conditions online abuse might be entangled with offline aggressive behaviour? Scholarly studies focus on the challenges to women (photo-) journalists, however the ways in which VAW has been addressed - by focusing either on online or on offline or on visual, have not taken into consideration all aspects together and in their (possible) interconnections. This study combines surveys, in-depth interviews and focus groups, also making use of innovative computational methods. By employing a comparative and an intersectional approach, this project integrates a gender-based investigation, focusing on European countries, and in particular Italy and Sweden. The understanding of the entanglement of on- and offline harassment combined with the centrality of the visual to abuse is an emerging area of research, and this project will develop new frameworks for analysis and new knowledge thus producing scientific, political and social innovation. It will also promote the global discussion on the prevention of VAW, one of the specific objectives of the new CoE Gender Equality Strategy (2018-2023), which is in line with the UN CEDAW, the Beijing PFA, and the UN 2030 Agenda SDGs. This research is consistent with the European Parliament, which calls for action to prevent new forms of VAW, such as online harassment. This research is relevant for (photo-) journalists, media professional bodies and associations, as the harm to women media professionals might prevent them from realising their career goals and making a thorough contribution to society. 


Online harassment and abuse cannot be addressed as just a matter of how the ICTs should be regulated by promoting safeguards for internet use and safety, because this approach ignores "systematic gender disparities that characterize the media sector." The overall goal of this study is to look beyond an approach focused on how to regulate hardware and software, their architecture and uses, to better understand the constitutive role of the visual in negotiating meaning within a context of unequal power structures that characterise contemporary media environments and structures. The specific objectives are:
1. Understand the circumstances under which online abuse is intertwined with offline aggressive behaviour regarding women media professionals, and the place of the visual in this context;
2. Map and reflect on existing mechanisms that have been put in place to address these forms of violence;
3. Raise awareness of media professionals, managers and decision-makers on VAW;
4. Develop the principles, guidelines and assessment criteria for comprehensive policy integration on the centrality of the visual to VAW.

Piano delle attività:

The ADVOOCATE initial plan foresaw data collection through survey, qualitative interviews and focus groups through virtual exchange in Italy and Sweden.  However, the original plan had to be redesigned due to unexpected challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic. Amid this scenario, the comparative dimension of the project in relation to (online) harassment and abuse of women journalists, as well as policies adopted at the level of leading news media organisations to respond to online and offline harassment of women journalists inside newsrooms and in the digital media environment, was extended. Therefore, the principal investigator (PI) collected and analysed data from the 18 participating countries of the 2021 edition of the Media for Democracy (MDM) monitor international project, promoted by the Euromedia research group; in addition to including Brazil as a case study. These changes were possible because the PI is a member of the Italian team of the MDM, and received support from professional journalism bodies in Brazil, such as the National Federation of Journalists (FENAJ) and the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (ABRAJI), to circulate the online survey in the country across their networks. This action made possible the identification of key (women) journalists and photojournalists, and representatives of professional journalism associations, who then generously offered their time to be interviewed for the research project.



Gender-based hate speech and cyberstalking have become a mainstay in women journalists’ work lives in Italy, Sweden, MDM participating countries and Brazil. The phenomenon is changing as the attacks are moving offline with potential deadly consequences, which is in line with findings from international studies. Italian and Brazilian journalists perceive their emotional response to image-based abuse and gender-based hate speech differently, being the former causing higher levels of psychological distress to italian journalists. There is still reluctance from the side of women journalists to denounce the attacks they experience, as well as a lack of awareness or even acknowledgement of the severity of online violence gender/power in/equalities inside newsrooms and in the digital media environment in the countries under study. Also, there is still unsubstantiated support and protection mechanisms adopted at the level of news outlets. Even when there is legal support from the side of the news media, journalists are still expected to report and document the abuses, and take the applicable measures (whatever they might be) on their own. The unwillingness to discuss violence against women journalists emerges as a serious methodological challenge to advance knowledge on women journalists’ personal experiences of the dynamics of online-offline violence, especially in Italy.
Recommendations: Online and offline gender-based violence should be addressed at a structural level, with the support of the news industries and professional journalism bodies, instead of leaving the burden for individual women (photo)journalists alone to deal with, address and overcome intimidation and threats for their own sake. Develop networks of collaboration to strenghten partnerships amongst the sectors of information and technology, journalism and media to promote and improve knowledge and competences on data management and security, and safety for women (photo)journalists in online environments.