China intimidates female journalists to discredit critical coverage

A 2022 report by the International Center for Journalists found nearly three-quarters of women journalists it surveyed had experienced online threats…reports Asian Lite News

China has been intimidating women journalists and researchers online to silence them and discredit their critical coverage of China, according to think tank Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI).

The increased harassment over the past year directed at women analysts of Asian descent is likely the result of an orchestrated campaign by the Chinese government, research by a think tank said. China is not going to stop trolling journalists because of an advocacy campaign,” Hoffman wrote. “What we can do is put in place strong digital safety measures and online abuse policies in newsrooms that will help to mitigate the impact of these attacks.”

A 2022 report by the International Center for Journalists found nearly three-quarters of women journalists it surveyed had experienced online threats.

Of those, 30 per cent said they self-censored on social media and 20 per cent had quit posting entirely. Some said the harassment led them to quit their jobs or even their profession altogether.

Harassment largely ranged from insults about an individual’s appearance to accusations of being a traitor or threats of violence and rape.

The harassment “illustrates how online attacks can be used by authoritarian governments beyond borders to intimidate and silence journalists,” Nadine Hoffman, deputy director of the Washington-based International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF), wrote in an email to VOA

According to June and November reports from ASPI, a network popularly dubbed Spamouflage is likely behind the harassment.

“Spamouflage” refers to an extensive network of Beijing-linked accounts first identified in 2019. Activity from the network has been focused on Hong Kong pro-democracy protests, as well as Taiwan, COVID-19 and human rights abuses in Xinjiang, it reported.

But embassy spokesperson Liu Pengyu told VOA in June that “China condemns the harassment of female groups and opposes linking it to the Chinese government without evidence.”

Twitter first attributed a “significant state-backed” operation to China in 2019 when the social media company identified over 900 accounts it said were linked to Beijing.

And in June 2022, a Twitter spokesperson told VOA that the activity ASPI identified was part of the “Spamouflage” network, and the company had suspended more than 400 accounts in response.

According to VOA,the latest report from ASPI determined that graphic online depictions of sexual assault, as well as homophobia, racist imagery and life-threatening intimidation — like telling targets to kill themselves — “are a growing part of the Chinese Communist Party’s toolkit of digital transnational repression.”

“People like you who betray the motherland, smear and slander at will, are really inferior to dogs,” one tweet cited in the report said. Another read, “I advise you not to run around. Stray dogs are easy to kill.”

Journalists and researchers who concentrate on China are familiar with the pattern of abuse.

Yaqiu Wang, who focuses on issues including internet censorship for Human Rights Watch (HRW), has experienced online harassment over her work.

The IWMF has found similar results in its research. As well as self-censorship, the IWMF has seen negative mental health repercussions for those targeted, Hoffman said.

“Online violence is a tool intended to silence women’s voices in public spaces, whether by misogynists, authoritarian governments or other kinds of trolls,” Hoffman wrote. “And, it works.”(ANI)

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