Leigh Sales has described in detail what is wrong with bullies and trolls who attack her and other female journalists for doing their job.
One of the country’s most respected journalists, the ABC’s Leigh Sales, is putting on notice not only anonymous trolls and bullies who frequent Twitter but the very platform itself.
In an article published on Tuesday morning, Sales took aim at the “insidious” and “unhinged” political bullying on Twitter from “politicians’ acolytes, lackeys, fans and proxies, mostly — but not always — operating anonymously”.
“Anyone who can stomach wading into mentions of @leighsales will find that virtually hourly, I am abused for doing my job, with a stream of tweets goading me to quit, demanding the ABC sack me, telling me I’m useless, stupid, biased and incompetent,” she wrote.
“It is overwhelmingly left-leaning Twitter users who are targeting ABC journalists for abuse.
“Of course, there are right-wing attacks too but the most ferocious campaigns are reserved for any journalist who questions, in even the most anodyne manner, the policies or public statements of Labor politicians, particularly the Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese, the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, the Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and the West Australian Premier Mark McGowan.”
Sales, who was targeted by hardcore Daniel Andrews supporters after attending a coronavirus update in Melbourne earlier this year, said Twitter is “dominated by views that are militantly pro-lockdown, pro-covid zero and pro-Labor premiers, and even the tamest of questions in those directions prompts an onslaught”.
In the firing line recently was the public broadcaster’s Lisa Millar. A seasoned, highly-respected journalist among her peers, Millar became the target for trolls who plumbed new depths to attack her.
The ABC News Breakfast host has left Twitter. Her co-host Michael Rowland said what she was subjected to was “next level”.
“Lisa has deactivated her account because she was on the receiving end of some truly vile & distressing personal attacks,” Rowland wrote on Twitter.
“We all cop criticism here. No one is perfect. But the stuff Lisa was subjected to was next level. Those responsible should be ashamed.”
But they aren’t ashamed. If anything, they are buoyed by Millar de-activating her account. There is no need to feel shame because there is no accountability. There is nothing to stop them creating new anonymous profiles. The platform certainly hasn’t intervened to date.
Sales said Twitter needs to do more.
“It is a matter for a commercial entity like Twitter to ask itself — and my understanding is that it is — whether the treatment of journalists, in particular female journalists, on its platform is acceptable,” she wrote.
“Any good corporate citizen should examine its role in promoting sensible and open debate versus hate speech and misinformation.
“When I look at the filth dished up about Stan Grant, one of the smartest, most decent men I know, it is clearly a form of racial vilification. The publication of such words extends beyond morality to legality.”
Channel 10 journalist Hamish MacDonald quit social media because he was attacked while hosting Q&A.
I wrote last year about Victorian political reporter Rachel Baxendale being trolled for asking tough questions of Premier Andrews.
In a thread, the reporter for The Australian wrote that she had received death threats.
“Journalists should never be above criticism, and I’m always willing to hear it if it’s constructive, but no one should face relentless personal abuse for doing their job,” Baxendale wrote.
“I’m thick-skinned, and I’m not going to let a bunch of awful trolls who don’t know me get the better of me, but I’d be lying and letting others who’ve experienced similar down if I said that the kinds of messages I’ve received over the past couple of days don’t have an impact.”
Sales’ crusade to clean up Twitter is not new. She has covered this ground numerous times before, shaming those who attack her and sharing the sexualised abuse she receives.
Journalist, cyberhate expert and author of Troll Hunting, Ginger Gorman, says Australia is experiencing a “perfect storm when it comes to cyberhate.
“We are all at home more and spending far more time online that we normally would,” she told news.com.au.
“That’s the first factor. The second factor is that trolls often target big news events because there’s already community traction and concern around these events or issues, and perpetrators are more likely to get attention this way. This plays into their narcissism.”
Whatever the reason, it has to stop.