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Why Do Journalists Face Varying Degrees of Digital Hostility? Examining the Interplay Between Minority Identity and Celebrity Capital

Journal Article published in 2023
This study compares two explanations why some journalists are targeted more than others, both by general digital hostility and specifically by identity-based hostility, job-related hostility, and severe hostility such as threats and repeat offences. The first explains targeting by identity, especially of historically disadvantaged groups such as women and migrants; the second explains targeting by celebrity: journalists with larger audiences, greater social media presence, more television work, and focus on political coverage are targeted more.


The hypotheses were tested with an online survey of journalists in Switzerland. The survey data was collected from July to October 2017. The population includes employed and freelance journalists from print and online newspapers and magazines, television and radio, and news agencies, in all three major language regions of Switzerland: German, French, and Italian. Journalists who worked mainly in advertising and public relations or who had retired were not considered. Finally, 637 journalists took part in the survey.

Main Findings

This study finds that journalists with larger audiences, strong social media presence, and working for television that publish on political topics more frequently experience general digital hostility. The individual effects are driven to varying degrees by different types of hostility. For example, women experience general hostility less frequently than men, and this effect is reversed only with sexist hostility. Further, journalists with German or Austrian migrant backgrounds experience general hostility less frequently than nonmigrant journalists, and this effect generalizes to all kinds of migrant backgrounds with racist and xenophobic hostility and severe hostility. In addition, migrant men experience general digital hostility more frequently than nonmigrant men, but no difference is observed among the corresponding women. Finally, the relationship between working for television and general digital hostility is stronger among women and migrant journalists than among their counterparts. This effect is observed for sexist hostility and repeat offenders regarding migrant journalists. The relationship between social media presence and racist and xenophobic hostility and threats is stronger for women than for men, as is the relationship between audience size and threats.

Policy recommendations/implications

For example, the explanation of celebrity may become more pronounced in the future if the “widening gap between borderless media and limited attention” and the “visibility mandate” for public professions actually increases. In such a winner-takes-all logic, ever fewer public figures accumulating global attention may well receive ever-growing volumes of hostility. And if celebrity is indeed a dynamic position with a rapid turnover, emotional-hostile online firestorms against journalists may well intensify.
Research focuses:
Psychological, Digital
Methods used in research:
Countries of research focus:
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