There are a number of news media platforms, both independent and mainstream, that give voice to the voiceless, seek out hidden truths in society, both material and ideological, and generally expose the harsh realities of oppression, struggles and inequities. This amid abusive online comments that abuse the journalist, abuse the platform and abuse other users. An elder might say, “But isn’t that all news media work?” It’s the irony: to keep doing all of your work in the midst of cyberbullying, cyberlynching, and relentless abuse, you need the kind of thick skin that’s antithetical to all of the work.
I maintain that the media owes itself and us something more: to help make the world a safer place, a place where hope lives in the midst of often shattering realities. This does not mean that there is only one truth and that it is the whole truth that the media must adhere to. It’s impossible for a media platform to believe this anyway, and that’s why it’s pragmatic to take a stand without taking sides – to put the available facts and then ask the right questions. In taking a stand, an editor deliberately rejects pretenses of the perpetually elusive ideal of objectivity. However, this jeopardizes a modern ecosystem media platform. That is, when the party that disagrees with the position reacts, and reacts violently, it leaves both individuals within the media system as well as reasonable sections of society feeling hurt, humiliated and desperate.
How can a hurt and humiliated individual wake up day after day and motivate themselves to smile in front of a studio camera or return to the farming village, Muslim or Dalit basti to tell their stories, and not be affected by the cruelty of the online backlash? It takes the courage of vulnerability and a mature conviction for a media professional today to re-energize and pick themselves up and continue to pursue what they believe to be the right thing. And that’s the antithesis I alluded to earlier: all work requires a social sensitivity that runs counter to the apathy that may be necessary to ignore so much abuse. It’s brutal to expect people to put on a brave smiling face as the troll army claims their virtual blood, insults them or tells them how sad they must be because a certain political party has won the elections that have just ended.
Psychological issues cannot function well within a framework of Machiavellian expectations.
What am I saying that we don’t already know? Yet presenting it as a mental health issue for journalists is a way to alert us to Sisyphus’ burden of having to “face the reality of technology.” This would be a falsely deterministic way of universalizing the problem rather than addressing it squarely. It seems to me that the reader and audience should feel a deep sense of gratitude for every medium that goes against the grain at the cost of untold abuse online, on social media, and even on their own online platforms.
This is the price individuals must pay for the survival of their platform. Online comments are one of the main reasons platforms gain notoriety, so even if that means allowing sickening abuse, these media platforms are subjecting their journalists to severe psychological stress. The practice seems to be to never read these comments and to stay sane. Surely organizations can’t recommend this? We know publishers can easily separate the wheat from the chaff – they can distinguish between free speech and hate speech. Someone needs to take the initiative to stem the flow of mud, take the cudgel of editorial policy and manually moderate comments, disable live comments, and make the space safer for themselves and their employees.
As the reporter navigates her emotional distress, the general public has their own issues to deal with. We feel our hope in humanity vanishing in the face of this daily abuse in tango with the demagoguery of the time. It is an abuse of our sensitivity and the media allow it, but these are forms of manipulated, incited or paid content. Of course, they do not represent society per se. The media, in essence, allows it to plunge us into despair by fostering a false sense of the pervasiveness of abuse. What we initially thought were problematic aberrations appear so commonplace now that hate speech manifests itself in one form or another of emboldened social action – it is the abstract that guides the material.
This simultaneous suffering and spreading of abuse is happening on both independent and mainstream platforms. So what’s stopping them from doing the obvious? What are media organizations doing about the mental health of their employees who have passionately immersed themselves in the profession of telling the truth and now find themselves stranded without adequate internal or external support? Still, the marketing and digital marketing floors might grumble because if they blink first and people tune in just to absorb content and post decent, reasonable comments, they might lose their eyes to freelancers. . But someone has to blink, and it can’t be the independent online media platforms that have limited ways to earn their working capital.
All this pressure can have a telling effect on journalists, but the worst is yet to come, the dreaded “big picture” – the chilling effect that abuse will have on “the whole of the work”, normalizing the safe form and vanilla of journalism and expelling the investigator.