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Campaign Snapshot: "Byte back" against online harassment of women

Asia Pacific – International Federation of Journalists – Online Abuse & Harassment

In 2017, IFJ-AP launched the Byte Back campaign, a region-wide social media effort to push back against the harassment of women online. IFJ-AP shared with IFEX how the campaign started, some of the challenges they overcame during its implementation, and their advice for those considering similar work.

The Byte Back campaign was born in November 2016, during a brainstorming session at IFJ's Gender Equity & Strategy Forum in Nepal, which brought dozens of female activists and union members from across the Asia Pacific region together. Based on the experiences shared by participants, it was designed both to combat online harassment of women journalists and create safe online spaces for them to express themselves freely.

The campaign formally launched on International Women's Day (8 March) 2017, and carried on throughout the month. Journalists and members of the public were asked to share innovative ways of fighting harassment online, promote positive/success stories, and highlight the gaps in advocacy and policies in countering online harassment.

The campaign drew support from several high profile media personalities, and promoted personal blogs, videos and other engaging material generated with expert input, resulting in strong social media uptake.


  • How to encourage wide participation in the campaign by stakeholders? How to build engagement - both in terms of IFJ's contacts and the general public affected by online harassment - was the biggest challenge to figure out.

  • Ensuring visibility of the campaign at a time when a plethora of campaigns for women's rights were also being promoted. Since the campaign launched on 8 March, it was important to ensure the message was not drowned in the media blitz surrounding International Women's Day.

  • How to maintain people's interest over a 3 week campaign period? Many social media campaigns start strong, but are soon lost in the shuffle.

By asking for different actions throughout the campaign we kept them interested and active, as well as ensuring that we covered the broad spectrum of the issue and didn't flood people with too much information too early.


  • Tell a campaign story. Interest in the campaign was sustained by promoting different components each week, starting with a general focus on the issue, then launching the IFJ online harassment handbook mid-campaign, and, in the final week, publishing blogs from editors and senior journalists across the region discussing the issue.

  • Use days of action, but don't rely on them. While the campaign leveraged International Women's Day to start, staggering the release of material over the entire month prevented it from being drowned out, and gave it space to develop its own identity and audience.

  • Simplicity is not a bad thing. Limited resources don't need to cripple your work; a lot can be achieved by creating smart campaign graphics and a simple how-to-guide on what people can do to be part of your campaign.

  • Big voices count. Involvement of high profile media personalities - for example, Pakistani news anchor Maria Memon – proved invaluable to spreading the message to audiences that would not otherwise have been reached.

  • Laws alone can't solve online harassment. While many of the women journalists facing abuse had filed complaints with police and also made complaints to social media platforms, in the end, it was solidarity from a vocal community of journalists that helped make a difference in terms of providing support and stopping abuse. Thus, building these supportive online communities must form the basis of campaigns.

Case studies of effective pushback of online abuse made it clear that laws alone are not an effective solution - it was solidarity from a vocal community of journalists that helped make a difference.

  • Think local as well as (inter)national. Engaging local networks created a ripple effect; use of local languages in videos was effective in ensuring that country videos had a greater uptake in their own countries; and subtitles made sure that local messages could reach an international audience.

  • There's no substitute for planning in person. Despite being an online campaign, the face-to-face meeting that preceded the launch was crucial in building both a shared understanding of the campaign and a strong network to drive it to success.

  • Online harassment is not a single problem, but varies in content and style geographically. As what works in India may not work in the Philippines (and vice versa), engaging journalists across the region on the issue, along with unions and other associations, ensured that the problem could be addressed appropriately on a country by country basis.

The biggest lesson we learned is that across the region online harassment manifests itself in so many ways and each country and region is finding different ways to address and attempt to combat it.

SAMSN was the main campaign partner, a member-based network of media unions and associations from across South Asia. Most SAMSN members were present at the November 2016 meeting, which enabled IFJ to call on the participants to be the focus person in their country and organisation, helping to coordinate engagement.

SAMSN members joined the campaign by sharing materials on social media, and sending in videos, quotes and photos.

For specific materials, such as the blogs with editors, IFJ targeted specific people based on their experience and presence within the media.

Since the formal end of the campaign in March, IFJ continues to promote the materials developed, and is incorporating them into its wider material. In the South Asia Press Freedom Report, published in May 2017, a chapter which discussed online harassment was included for the first time, and in June 2017, IFJ joined a panel at the IFEX GM to discuss online harassment and steps forward.

IFJ-AP has drawn on the campaign materials to update our gender equity & safety training modules with practical examples from the campaign, as well as best practices and solutions.

For more detailed information about the Byte Back campaign, please see IFJ-AP's campaign page.

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