ACOS Editors’ Workshop Highlights Urgent Need for Digital Vigilance for Journalists

by Allan Dodds Frank

Online harassment of journalists, particularly women and minorities, is at an all-time high and only going to get worse. That’s the warning delivered by an expert panel of press freedom defenders who conducted an Editors’ Safety Workshop at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

The ACOS Alliance sponsored the workshop to enlighten top editors about approaches to managing the risks that abound on the Internet, threatening individual journalists and media institutions alike.

Two dozen editors traded experiences and ideas about ways to educate and protect staff and the news organizations simultaneously to meet the burgeoning threat, one that sometimes is initially undetected when victims are reluctant to report online harassment to their bosses.

“The editors’ workshop served to heighten my personal and professional awareness of the myriad of possible threats that the journalistic community has been facing and will be facing with the very active news cycle we have upon us,” said OPC President Pancho Bernasconi. “I am so very grateful for ACOS’s leadership and ability to bring together the vast array of experts and the multitude of media organizations so that we could all learn together and share our own organizations’ processes and growth in this space.”

Viktorya Vilk, manager of special projects for free expression at PEN America, recommended that editors steer their staffs to her organization’s website ( to access their guidance about how harassment targets should react.

Jason Reich, vice president for corporate security for The New York Times, said editors should prompt everyone in the newsroom to practice “digital hygiene” by scouring the internet for information about themselves.

Reich and Harlo Holmes, director of newsroom digital security at the Freedom of the Press Foundation, emphasized that third party data aggregators such as Spokeo may have far more data about you than you realize. That information may be used by harassers and hackers to “dox” news staff by publishing what most people consider to be private confidential information.

Your family and your entire list of contacts may be at risk as a result of your personal information being compromised and collected from apps you enabled long ago. One solution is to go to a website called DeleteMe ( to begin the process of blocking information collectors from scooping up data you thought was private.

Eliot Stempf, a digital security advisor for BuzzFeed, also helped explain how editors can assess Internet risk. Breaking down into four subgroups, the workshop came up with a series of recommendations that included guaranteeing any staff member who is being harassed online that there will be no adverse career consequences if they report the problem.

Several editors said many young news people may fear that they will be rated lower if, as a protective reaction to harassment, they diminish their activity – or drop off – Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

Equally important, the editors concluded, is the realization that any attack on an individual should also be regarded as an assault on the news organization. The consensus was that protecting the individual is paramount, but that any response by editors also has to incorporate the principles of the news organization and best judgment about whether self-protection requires an aggressive counterattack on the Internet.