The following article by lawyer Melanie Gassler-Tischlinger on how journalists can defend themselves against shitstorms was published in the September/October 2017 issue of the media magazine „Statement“.
Just like thunderstorms they appear without warning: „digital shitstorms“.
Journalists are in the public eye and as such are often subject to criticism. Facebook, Twitter, user forums, etc. make it easy for media consumers to express their disapproval. Criticism that was one sent by mail or e-mail is increasingly being expressed on the web, where it can be seen by large numbers of people.
Sometimes a report or a comment by a journalist can quickly provoke a wave of negative reactions, defamations and insinuations, that spreads from one social media to the next. The reson behind them is that the content of the article is presumed incorrect or the report is, or is assumed to be, biased.
Every person has the right to voice their opinion of a journalist or his work, even if it’s negative. Especially for journalists, the level of tolerance of criticism is a lot higher than for other individuals.
Despite that, journalists don’t have to put up with everything and can take action against those involved in the shitstorms for defamation of character or libel, slander, damage to reputation and creditworthiness or even cybermobbing or making criminal dangerous threats.
Providers of internet services become liable if they don’t remove illegal statements from their sites immediately or block access to them.
A journalist can demand the release of the identity of a user from a provider if he can make plausible that his legal interests prevail and a comment seems to be unlawful.
So even if journalists have to put up with a lot more than the average person, that doesn’t mean they’re fair game on the internet. They can successfully take court action against comments that cross the boundary of objective criticism.