Online Abuse: “I refuse to change my journalistic routines and practices because of online harassment”, journalist Esra Aygin

Esra Aygin, 43, is a Turkish-speaking Cypriot freelance journalist writing for both Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot media. She is also the Cyprus correspondent of Reporters Without Borders. As a political journalist she mainly covers issues related to the division of the island, Turkey's role in Cyprus and the peace negotiations. She has faced online abuse since January 2021 for criticising the Turkish Cypriot leader.

IFJ: Can you describe the type of abuse you have received online?

On 13 January 2021, Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar stated that he would not accept Covid-19 vaccinations from the European Union, if they are delivered to the Turkish Cypriot community through the Republic of Cyprus. 

I criticized him for this statement on Twitter and wrote: “You cannot risk the health of this community because you want to play the game of a sovereign. Being a state, being a statesman, being a president first and foremost means working for the wellbeing, welfare and health of your people. You are not aware of the responsibility and the magnitude of your duty.”

Turkish Cypriot leader Tatar replied to my Tweet in English (with a lot of spelling mistakes) writing: “Cheap and undignified, u should do better, at least keep quiet and give us a chance.” 

After Tatar responded to me, I was subject to a lot of online abuse from Twitter users calling me a Greek-lover, a terrorist, a traitor, and asking who pays my salary. They told me to get out of Cyprus, to go and live in Greece. I also got a death threat from the  ‘World Turkish Movement’ which said it will spill my blood because I am a collaborator of the enemy.

IFJ: Can you describe how it has affected your work?

Online abuse is a freedom of expression issue. Women journalists’ right to freedom of expression requires them to be equally able to share their ideas and opinions without censorship, or fear of retaliation. 

Constantly reading abuse and attacks online was tiresome and frustrating. It was emotionally very draining for me and for my loved ones. I was not in Cyprus at the time so I wasn’t afraid, but I am sure had I been in Cyprus I would not have felt safe. 

IFJ: Would you consider you were targeted specifically for being a woman journalist?

I am sure that Turkish Cypriot leader Tatar would not have responded in such an insulting and condescending manner had I not been a woman. And I would not have been attacked by the others as much.

IFJ: Did you lodge a complaint? If so, to whom?

I informed Reporters Without Borders, for whom I work as a correspondent. The Turkish Cypriot Journalists Union Basin-Sen gave me legal support to sue Ersin Tatar for making me a target and putting my life at risk. The union has covered all the financial costs for this. They made a statement supporting me and criticising Tatar. 

IFJ: How is the situation now? Were there any prosecutions carried out against your harasser?

There were no prosecutions carried out yet. The legal case is ongoing.

IFJ: Looking back on it, what could have been done differently in your case?

I think the union has done everything in its power to support me. 

IFJ: What advice would you give to journalists who are targeted online? And more specifically to women journalists?

Women journalists are increasingly becoming targets of online abuse. Many report serious problems due to fear of abuse, including leaving social media, leaving jobs and self-censoring. They should reach out to their unions, which can support them with legal assistance, psychological support, public statements, as well as training on digital safety and tips to prevent online abuse.

IFJ: Do you now take any special precautions when expressing yourself on social media or publishing articles?

I refuse to change my journalistic routines and practices because of online harassment. 

IFJ: How could unions improve the support they provide to their female members facing online abuse? 

Unions can provide concrete tips that women journalists should take both to  limit online abuse and when facing it. Journalists should also be given legal advice on how to identify punishable offences, how to seek help from appropriate organisations, how to gather evidence efficiently, and how to take appropriate steps if they decide to file a complaint. 

The unions can help provide psychological support.

IFJ: What could be done to tackle cyber harassment in a preventative rather than a responsive manner?

As preventative measures, journalists could receive training on how to secure their social media accounts and make them private. 

In very sensitive cases, journalists should be given the choice not to use their bylines or photos. Media outlets can also disable the comments section on their news websites.

Laws can be passed that protect journalists from online abuse. 

For more information, please contact IFJ on +32 2 235 22 16

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