EMPOWERING WRITERS AND JOURNALISTS: PEN America launched “Online Harassment Field Manual” . . . While the content is geared toward writers, much of the advice and techniques are relevant to anyone confronting hostility online.

PEN America nonprofit logo courtesy of Mltellman – under
CC BY-SA 4.0 license.

On Friday PEN America launched its Online Harassment Field Manual, a first-of-its-kind resource to equip and empower writers, journalists, and all those active online with practical tools and tactics to defend against hateful speech and trolling.

Research with more than 230 writers revealed alarming findings that highlight the relevance of the Field Manual and the threat that online harassment poses for free speech: two-thirds of those trolled reported reactions including refraining from publishing their work, deleting social media accounts, and fears for personal safety; over a third avoided certain topics in their writing. Writers were targeted for their viewpoints, but also based on their race, gender, and sexual orientation. Those belonging to marginalized communities or speaking out on injustice faced more egregious forms of online hate.

PEN, Exc. Dir. Suzanne Nossel

“Online harassment poses a clear threat to free expression, as evidenced by the results of our survey,” said PEN America Chief Executive Officer Suzanne Nossel. “When certain voices are muzzled, when people choose not to write about topics that matter, and when they remove themselves from the public debate, everyone loses. As an organization of and for writers, PEN America is especially disturbed by the ways in which online harassment affects their work. Journalists and writers whose web presence is a professional imperative can’t be left defenseless in the face of rampant digital intimidation, provocation, and vitriol when they dare to stick their heads above the parapet.”

The Field Manual offers a one-stop bank of advice, guidance, and resources on cyber-stalking, doxing, hate speech, and other forms of digital vitriol, intended to fortify writers and journalists with the best available methods and means to protect themselves and secure their own freedom to write.

The Field Manual also offers recommendations directed to employers, tech companies, and law enforcement on the parts they need to play to prevent online harassment. While the content is geared toward writers, much of the advice and techniques are relevant to anyone confronting hostility online. Manual highlights include:

  • A number of first-hand accounts of online harassment and their aftermath
  • Step-by-step guides for enhancing cyber security and preventing doxing
  • An online harassment glossary with proposed responses
    Ideas for leveraging online writing communities to combat online harassment
  • Tips for combating hate speech with counterspeech
  • Guidelines for allies and witnesses interested in intervening in online harassment
  • Best practices for employers of writers and journalists to improve institutional support during episodes of online abuse
    Information about online harassment and the law

    “In the digital age, all writers and publishers of online content are vulnerable and susceptible to web attacks,” said PEN America Journalism and Press Freedom Project Manager Laura Macomber. “Those facing online harassment must make an impossible decision: engage and put themselves at risk, or disconnect and miss out on important online discourse. Our goal is to equip writers and their allies—especially those whose livelihoods are at stake—with resources to push back against online hatred and harassment so they can continue to do their jobs.”

The Online Harassment Field Manual launched Saturday in New York City during a panel discussion on combating online hate, which is part of the PEN World Voices Festival. To continue the conversation, PEN America and the National Press Club Journalism Institute will host a panel about journalists fighting back against online harassment on April 27, the day before the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, in Washington, D.C.

The Online Harassment Field Manual is available at https://onlineharassmentfieldmanual.pen.org

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. The organization champions the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.


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PEN America’s new report…Trump the Truth: Free Expression in the President’s First 100 Days

PEN America Executive Director, Suzanne Nossel

PEN America’s new report Trump the Truth: Free Expression in the President’s First 100 Days clocks more than seventy separate instances where President Trump or senior Administration officials have taken potshots at the press, including Presidential tweets decrying “fake news,” restrictions on media access, intimations that the press has “their reasons” for not reporting terror attacks, and branding press outlets as “the enemy of the American people.” These instances amount to near-daily efforts by the Trump Administration to undermine the press during the President’s first 100 days. Such efforts not only chip away at public trust for the media and its indispensable role in keeping the public informed, but also signal to regimes abroad that the United States will not stand up for press freedom.

“President Trump has aimed more barbs at the press than he has served working days in office,” said Suzanne Nossel, PEN America’s Executive Director. “Trump has set a tone whereby government officials are not obligated to answer tough questions, be transparent to the American people, or demonstrate basic civility toward those who report on their policies. The Trump Administration’s posture towards the press has severe ramifications for America’s democracy and for governments abroad that are looking to legitimize abuses of press freedom. His snide, sneering approach to media he considers unfriendly is unbefitting a President of the nation that has prided itself on being a global standard-bearer for free expression.”

The thirty-three-page report—launched to evaluate Trump’s first 100 days from the perspective of free expression and press freedom—also details President Trump’s attacks on the truth, as well as his administration’s efforts to delegitimize dissent, draw the curtains on government transparency and reduce privacy rights at the border.


2014 Press Freedom Index: dark pink, very serious situation; medium pink, difficult situation; yellow, noticeable problems;, light green, satisfactory situation; dark green, good situation;  gray, not classified / no data

Trump the Truth is the newest installment in PEN America’s efforts to safeguard press freedoms and free expression rights under the Trump Administration. On January 15, PEN America held the flagship “Writers Resist” event on the steps of the New York Public Library before submitting a petition asking President Trump to commit to upholding the First Amendment and to refrain from his attacks on the press. The petition, which collected over 100,000 signatures, included the names of every previous living Poet Laureate. In March, PEN America submitted another petition, again with over 100,000 signatures, to Rep. Louise Slaughter, co-chair of the House Arts Caucus, to protest the proposed defunding of the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities under the Trump Administration. More recently, on April 25, PEN America awarded the Women’s March its 2017 PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award, for its “clarion call that Americans would not sit back in the face of threats to values and freedoms.”


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.


This feature and the photograph is courtesy of PEN America. The photograph is under CC BY-SA 4.0 license; world map showing Press Freedom Index classification by country based upon the report Press Freedom Index 2014 from Reporters Without Borders.


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FREE SPEECH AND UNFREE NEWS, The Paradox of Press Freedom in America by Sam Lebovic, Assistant Professor of U.S. History: 20th century culture and politics; U.S. and the world; media history; democracy; civil liberties; cultural globalization.

Some of us are old enough to remember when freedom of the press went beyond the misconception that the right to free speech also meant a free press, times when cities had multiple newspapers and when journalists – and citizens – had fairly unrestrained access to news and information.

With the current decline of daily newspapers and of corporate consolidation of media and national security that is ever more secretive, Lebovic shows that the right of free speech is insufficient. It does not insure a free press. Lebovic’s exploratiom of the history of mid-20th Century press freedom obliges us to remember, explore – and perhaps begin to expect again – the citizen’s right to unfettered news and information.