Too close to home – online harassment in a mediated life

(Lång historia kort så gör jag nu medie- och kommunikationsvetenskaps-studier och kommer därför publicera vissa av mina studier och arbeten.)


On April 6th in 1938 Astrid Kindstrand debuted as the first female newscaster in Swedish public radio. The news broadcast brought about an immediate reaction from the audience and the radio station was overwhelmed with angry callers and letters of complaint were sent to the station. For Kindstrands safety her employer made the decision that she would be anonymous and that she would not receive the letters for her “peace of mind” (Sveriges Radio 1949). Now, eighty years later, we are constantly online and can be reached through a plethora of channels and devices at any time and in any place. For a journalist this means that being free of hate is no longer as simple as not answering a phone or disregarding letters, as we live in a society where we are continuously online.

Several studies have shown that figures participating in public discourse are victims of online threats and harassment to a greater extent than other occupational groups in society (Bladini 2017; FOI 2020). In 2020 FOI, the Swedish Defence Research Agency conducted a study on online hate aimed at culture workers and public figures. The study showed that amongst culture workers and public figures female journalists were the ones that received the most threats and harassments (FOI 2020). 

The global research institute Freedom House conducts a yearly report, Freedom on the Net, which analyzes internet freedom worldwide. In 2014 the research institute reported that an increasing number of women across the world were using digital media as a tool to fight for political, social, and economical equality. However, access to and engagement on the internet did not automatically increase women’s power or participation in political discourse, as they were subject to online threats and harassment. Women’s online presence could affect their offline life where they were at risk of being targets for threats, hate, and physical violence. These aspects, the institute warned, could lead to a backlash of self-censorship that in turn would inhibit freedom of speech (Freedom House 2014). A more recent report released by Freedom House in 2019 showed that the growing populism and far-right politics have brought about a growth in harassment on social media and coordinated campaigns where swarms of users collectively target individuals or groups with harassment and threats. 

The sentiment that online harassment poses a threat to freedom of speech, as well as freedom of the press, was shared by the Swedish Defence Research Agency (2020). They concluded that journalists work in a harsh conversation- and debate climate in social media and are often subjected to threats and hate and as seen by FOI this harassment leads to adjustments and self-censorship; journalists choose to write about topics or public figures from a certain angle or stay clear of certain topics or areas such as immigration, feminism, and equality altogether.

Many journalists are freelancers that have no formal employer, office hours, or a physical office and therefore work a lot from the presence of their home (Bengtsson 2006). This blurs the physical line between work and leisure as the home doubles as a workspace, and in the case where one can separate themselves physically from work, we still can not separate ourselves from our devices where we receive both work related and private communication. 

In such an online climate, where female journalists are subject to an increasing amount of online hate and harassment, what part does the fact that the boundaries between private and public are becoming blurred, our medializated lives and always on and always online devices play?

The end of Media

Several scholars have argued that we can no longer read Media with a capital M and consider it an entity or sphere completely separate from others. With digitalization, media, and in particular the internet has become deeply intertwined with our society. It is an intrinsical part of our everyday life, routines, and activities as well as part of our public discourse and institutions (Moores 2012, Deuze 2012, Couldry & Hepp 2017). It is no longer a newspaper we unfold and then fold or a radio that we turn on and off, as Turkle (2008) states digital media is always turned on and always carried on us. 

Deuze (2012) claims that we live in and not with media as media has become such an innate part of civilization that it goes beyond being important to becoming invisible, perceived as something “natural” or given to such an extent that that we are now blind to it and do not notice how it shapes our civilization. This means that our life can not be separated from media or experienced outside of media. 

This sentiment that our society is increasingly shaped by media, in particular, digital media is shared by Couldry and Hepp (2017). Our lives are shaped by and dependent upon media not only as individuals but also on the greater scale as it influences government, institutions and political discourse. This process has intensified over the last decade and entered a new stage referred to as deep mediatization. One can no longer view the media as one sphere that influences others but can be separated from them since all facets of society are in one way or another influenced by digital media. We have therefore now entered a deeper state of medialization where digital media permeates all aspects of our civilization and everyday life. 

Work is where your computer is at

In Internet Society: The Internet in Everyday Life (2005), Maria Bakardjieva studies the introduction of the Internet into a household and amongst other things the patterns between usage and placement. This study was done at a time when computers were stationary and connected to the internet through cable modems, which meant that it had a designated place from where it was seldom moved, or had to be moved with a considerable effort. 

In Bakardjievas’s study (2005, p 149-163) she noted that the placement of a computer with an internet connection was decided by the purpose of the computer and by who would be the primary user of the computer. A computer used mainly for work purposes and mostly by one family member was often placed in a separate room, whereas a computer used by the whole family and for leisure purposes could be placed in a communal room. 

This distinction between work and leisure can also be seen in Bengtssons study where one of the participants, Per-Fredric, works at home on a computer placed in his workroom which he enters at a designated time and exits at a designated time. This makes it possible for Per-Fredrik to physically remove himself from his work. Still, in Per-Fredrik’s case, there is an overlap between leisure and work, as he uses the computer to play games in his spare time and his telephone where he receives job-calls and social calls on one telephone (Bengtsson, 2006). 

The private is public

Theorizing on our “always-on/always-on-you” state where we are constantly connected by devices that are always turned on and always carried on ones person Turkle (2008) claims we are tethered to the devices or rather the gratification that comes from the use of these devices. Through them we can not only interact with others but also create and curate an online persona and these interactions are a source for validation which is why we continue to use these devices (Turkle, 2008: 125). 

One such device, the smartwatch, takes connectivity a step further. While using a mobile phone requires an action, to pick it up from the place you put it, be it in a pocket or on a nearby surface a smartwatch only requires a glance on one’s wrist. The primary function of a self-tracking device or smartwatch is measuring and tracking the user’s health and physical activities, giving the sense that the user is by collecting knowledge on oneself gaining insight on their health and thereby agency. (Crawford, Lingel & Karppi, 2015). 

But these days smartwatches have evolved to Internet devices in themselves and can be used to receive messages, read emails, watch social media feeds and much more. In a small survey for the course Media and Everyday Life (Bereket, Blomdell, Hellgren, Silmy, Tahir, 2021) a majority of respondents answered that they use smartwatches for 8 or more hours and first and foremost for measuring and tracking. However, a notable amount used their smartwatch for social or communication purposes; receiving calls, emails, text messages, and accessing social media. In total 80% of the respondents disclosed that they use it for social purposes at least to some extent and 75% of the smartwatch users declared that they receive notifications for calls, messages, and social media. The smartwatch can therefore no longer be seen as merely a tool for measuring, it is now yet another device for connectivity. 

This tethering to our devices brings about a change to how we connect and socialize and blurs the boundaries of private and public, or for this intent between the private and work; we have work-related conversations in the privacy of our home or private conversations at work (Turkle 2008).  

As we are tethered to our devices this creates pressure in regards to availability and speed; one is expected to always be reachable and to respond instantly to communication. This also causes inadvertent stress that we are seldom aware of, due to the constant use of our devices. For instance, one can answer work-related emails on the subway or update social media during dinner (Turkle 2008). In the same way as Turkle, Vincent Miller (2008) touches upon the need to keep in touch and be available constantly and how we through digital media and our devices are almost continually reachable. 

The phone, the mobile phone, emails, blogs, text messaging, and wireless technologies create a milieu in which, obviously, people are in almost constant communication with others. (Miller 2008, p. 394-395)

The veiwpoint that social relations are increasingly mediated by objects, tools and technologies such as mobile phones, computers and social media is supported by Couldry and Hepp (2017) who claim that these tools not only allow us to connect to others but by design encourage us to do so, which in turn means that it becomes “natural” to use social media for interpersonal communication (Couldry, Hepp, 2017, p 32).

According to Deuze (2012) we are characters acting in a medialized society where we document and present our life on social media, as we use media and our devices to narrate our existence we medialize our life to the extent that our media life becomes our life. In a similar manner, Miller (2008) argues that we are presenting or self-exposing ourselves on social media and demonstrating our connections. Deuze (2012) claims that we are so intertwined with media that we prefer mediated contact over physical meetings in our social life and when maintaining our relationships. 

Shaun Moores presents how our lives are deeply intertwined with the internet, and that the Internet can not be viewed as a place separate from the rest of society as it is an important part of our everyday lives and other fields or facets of society. Cyberspace can not actually be looked upon as a space independent from others, since it is incorporated into our daily lives and routines (Moores 2012, p 22-25). In this way, the office, or rather our work life or professional sphere can not be separated from the internet. 

Leaving the internet by exiting a room is no longer the case as we have wireless connections and multiple devices, enabling the internet and more specifically social media to be accessed from any place in the home. Thus, we can not literally step away from work, since work can follow us around in our devices.


When writing about temporal states and how we act and perform in a particular way depending on the conditions Tina Bengtsson (2006, s. 121) writes how shifting roles becomes a part of everyday life and uses culture workers, to exemplify this she mentions “people working on TV”. I however would like to contest that since media workers in general, not only TV personalities, are highly visible, presented with names, and in some cases bylines with portrait photos. At the same time, they are dependent on digital platforms for their work; in their research, and connecting with interview subjects, sources and colleagues. The current work environment makes it difficult for a journalist to work completely offline (FOI, 2020). Journalists are not only visible in their work, but they are also in the the same way as anybody else visible and available on social media, tethered to devices and dependent on them for all aspects of life.

In many instances, a journalist uses the same device for work and private life, such as Per-Henrik who received work-related and private phonecalls on the same phone or one computer for working and playing games. As well as devices, many of the communication channels are used for both work and private purposes as social media are used to connect with private acquaintances but also where they can receive messages regarding work. This means that the line between work persona and life become blurred. 

What can be said for the perpetrator is that they do not make a distinction between work and private, neither in regards to channel nor content and especially so when attacking women. The line between private and work is blurred in the contents of the harassment itself, as men tend to recieve comments about their opinions and professionality while women get comments on more private aspects, such as their looks and more intrusively their sex-life. (FOI, 2020; Freedom House 2014, 2019) 

On separating the private and public Bengtsson (2006) writes how our devices blur the line or separate an individual from the world around them thus creating a private bubble in a public space (p 123) but this can also work the other way around. This is shown in Bakardijevas’s (2005) study where a computer can bring the outside world into the living room (p. 162). When discussing the home Bengtsson writes how in general not just anyone can enter this private space however, this exclusivity is loosened up for her respondents who work from home and are therefore visited or contacted by customers, colleagues, journalists, or fellow students (Bengtsson 2006).

Fifteen years later we are even more reachable and appearing in one’s living room is not merely done through visits, phone calls, or email. In our deeply medialized state and our always on and always on us devices we invite, or at least enable anyone, to enter our private sphere and this can unfortunately include a harasser. Through social media, which are mainly used for private communication a person can digitally enter one’s living room spewing hateful messages. Although they are in no way welcome, they have the means to do so.

Working from home means that a journalist is not able to turn off their computer, get up, put out the light, close the door, and leave the office and the hate behind them as they leave. Even when a journalist has a workspace that can be exited and a computer that can be behind, the devices we constantly carry with us such as a mobile phone can still receive harassments and threats. A journalist doesn’t just carry around work with them, they also carry a toxic online environment. As we are tethered to our devices, constantly online, and pulled at with notifications a simple off-button on the computer is not enough. While shopping, sitting on the bus, cooking dinner, or simply watching a tv show, at any time the device carried on one’s person can sound off notification about a vile message. 

Further research

Online harassment and harassment targeted at journalists specifically have been a topic for discussion for several years and a multitude of studies have been made on the subject (FOI 2020). An undergoing research project from Lunds University studies the effects of online harassment on journalists and the journalistic field in connection to freedom of speech from a sociology of law perspective. The aspiration is to shed light on the topic from a legal viewpoint and the project has the potential to present important insight into how the legal system can be a factor for protection and prevention (Lund University, 2020). 

The focus of this essay has been upon the recipient of online harassment however it is equally important to investigate the person on the other side, the sender behind this hate and threats. Several studies show that while the majority of victims of online harassement are women, a majority of perpetrators are men (Brottsförebyggande rådet 2015, FOI 2020, Freedom House 2014, 2019). What would be interesting to research is how deep medialization, digitalization and our always on and always on us-devices have affected the behavior of the senders and the contents of the messages. As the case of Astrid Kindstrand shows, hate storms directed against female journalists is not a novelty however, the perpetrator no longer needs to pen and send a letter nor is he bound to a stationary device. What consequences does this have on online harassment in general and harassement against female journalist in particular? 

As the report “Freedom on the Net” established in 2014, an increasing number of women use digital media to fight for equality and emancipation. This ties into the study “Domestic connectivity: media, gender and the domestic sphere in Kenya” (Gustafsson 2018) that shows that greater access to media can increase women’s knowledge and freedom. Although the women in the study conducted by Gustafsson mostly used tv and radio, women within higher studies have been introduced to and use the Internet to access information (p 193). In both these studies, women are faced with a misogynistic backlash online, offline, or both. It would be interesting to study the usage of the internet as a political tool for equality among women in non-western countries that have previously had little or no access to the internet and if internet participation has increased women’s participation, power, and freedom of speech. 


Bakardjieva, M. (2005) Internet Society: The Internet in Everyday Life, London: Sage.
Bengtsson, S. (2006) “Symbolic Spaces of Everyday Life: Work and Leisure at Home”, Nordicom Review Vol. 27(2): 119-132.
Bereket, M. Blomdell, C. Hellgren, F. Silmy, E. Tahir, V. (2021) “A study on wearable devices” Media and everyday life. Södertörn University. Unpublished work. 
Bladini, M. (2017). Hat och hot på nätet. En kartläggning av den rättsliga regleringen i Norden från ett jämställdhetsperspektiv. NIKK, Nordisk information för kunskap om kön, på uppdrag av Nordiska ministerrådet.
Couldry, N; Hepp, A. (2017) The Mediated Construction of Reality, Cambridge: Polity Press.
Crawford, K; Lingel, J; Karppi, T. (2015) “Our Metrics, Ourselves: A Hundred Years of Self-Tracking from the Weight-Scale to the Wrist Wearable Device”, European Journal of Cultural Studies, Vol. 18(4-5): 479-496.
Deuze, M. (2012) Media Life, New York: Polity Press.
Freedom House (2014). Freedom on the Net 2014.  Washington: Freedom House.
Freedom House (2019). Freedom on the Net 2019.  Washington: Freedom House.
Fernquist, J; Kaati, L; Asplund Cohen, K: Pollack Sarnecki, H; Pelzer, B; Akrami, N;  Lindberg, S (2020) Det digitala hatets karaktär – En studie av hat mot kvinnor och män i utsatta yrkesgrupper. FOI: Stockholm. 
Moores, S. (2012) Media, Place and Mobility, Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.
Sveriges Radio (2009) Kvinnlig röst skapade folkstorm 1938 Retrieved 2021-01-16 from
Turkle, S. (2008) “Always-on/Always-on-you: The Tethered Self”, in Mainstreaming Mobiles: Mobile Communication and Social Change, James Katz (ed.). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Miller, V. (2008) “New Media, Networking and Phatic Culture”, Convergence, Vol. 14(4): 387-400.