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Journalist forced to quit social media after suffering homophobic abuse

Sophie PerryA regional journalist who quit social media for the sake of her mental health has opened up about the homophobic abuse she received.

Oxford Mail reporter Sophie Perry has spoken out about the impact reader abuse has had on her and urged editors to recognise when their journalists need to take a “break” from engaging in online discussions.

Sophie, pictured, launched a new network for LGBTQ+ journalists earlier this year, an innovation that won her the Inclusion & Diversity prize at the Newsquest Excellence Awards in June.

She made the decision to take a break from social media after being subjected to abuse but has since decided to return to using it.

Speaking to HTFP, Sophie said: “A lot of the abuse I receive on social media, emails etc is aimed at myself, rather than a valid criticism of the journalism itself.

“In this, people have made references to my sexuality, made very coarse assumptions about my politics, personality and morals, as well as calling me a variety of names under the sun for reporting on publicly available information.”

Earlier this week, Sophie spoke at an industry discussion about online safety held to mark the launch of a new e-learning course on the NCTJ’s Journalism Skills Academy looking at the safety and resilience of journalists.

She told the discussion: “I made the decision to come away from social media. My editor was my first port of call.

“It’s important for managers to have those discussions about reporters needing to take a break from social media and not see it as a weak step.

“You have got to treat your brain and mental health like a muscle and give it the rest when it needs it.”

Sophie’s comments come after Steve Wollaston, Reach plc’s head of sport for the Midlands, spoke out on Twitter about the “dark and toxic abuse” faced by his team as he joined a network of online safety reps, set up by Reach to help staff who have experienced online abuse or harm.

Steve, who has been with Reach and its forerunner companies since 2000, said: “Football has unfortunately seen the ugliest side of social media, we saw that with the racial abuse of England footballers for missing penalties.

“Reporters covering high-profile clubs also find themselves a target for angry fans using the platform to abuse them. I have a number of young staff working for me, and many of them work remotely. It’s not a nice situation to be in when someone at the other end of a computer is throwing abuse at you for something you have written.

“I think in the past myself and many others saw it as ‘part of the job’, and the nature of the often tribalistic world of football.

“Most football fans are brilliant, the lines don’t get crossed too often. But when those lines are crossed, it’s important to me that it’s not dismissed as ‘banter’.

“Times have moved on, social abuse is not OK, it can have a really detrimental effect on people’s mental health. In recent years we have seen threats of violence to staff, comments about family members, and people encouraging pile-ons on social media.

“Now, through this training, and the company’s commitment to this issue, I’m better equipped to provide proper support for my staff.”

Reach online safety editor Rebecca Whittington, who was also on the NCTJ panel with Sophie, added: “This initiative means we can promote the online safety policies and structures we have in place at Reach, the reps are the ears on the ground and the allies supporting colleagues – their commitment will significantly add to the continued development of a secure workplace culture around online safety at Reach.

“It’s great to bring colleagues together from across the organisation and I’m really looking forward to working with them all.”

The issue of online safety is set to be further discussed today at the Behind Local News Conference, jointly organised by Newsquest, Reach, DC Thomson and Iliffe Media.