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Journalists struggle to keep online threats out of hand

TAMPA, Florida. – After a Florida radio station’s general manager told the hosts they didn’t have to be an unpleasant repeat caller in the air a few months ago, the man stood on the sidewalk outside, and vented his irritation at the station by a megaphone.

Craig Kopp, manager of WMNF-FM in Tampa, said the man left for a while, but appeared — the day after the shooting left five Maryland newspaper employees dead.

Now Kopp stomach is twisted in knots, wondering how to deal with the situation.

“I walk this fine line all the time between the most precious things, the First Amendment, and health and safety,” said Kopp, a broadcast veteran in the costs of the 70 volunteers who host music, news, and heated political talk show on the listener-supported station.

The difficulties journalists face in dealing with threatening behaviour from members of the public came into stark relief in Thursday’s deadly attack on the Capital Gazette in Annapolis.

Defendant Jarrod Ramos, 38, is a well-documented history of harassing the paper. He filed a libel lawsuit against the paper in 2012 that was thrown out as unfounded and often railed against them in profanity-laced tweets.

Ramos’ ire started with an online harassment and stalking case, a result of contact with a high school classmate at the end of 2009 or early 2010. The woman eventually went to the police, and Ramos pled guilty to a misdemeanor harassment charges. The newspaper story about the case touched off a yearslong rant Ramos.

A barrage of threatening tweets led to an investigation of five years ago, but a detective closed Ramos was not a threat, and the newspaper wanted to do for fear of “putting a stick in a beehive.”

People who have been a victim of an online discussion of physical violence, doxing (publishing private information), and rape threats are not surprised about the Capital Gazette attack started with online harassment.

Katie Kausch said she has been harassed online as a trainee at MTV after writing a story about people who don’t believe in the Sandy Hook shooting that killed 26 at an elementary school really happened.

Anonymous people are unhappy with the story found Kausch ‘s college grade point average and her little sister’s school address, and published them online. They wrote a vague, ominous statements like, “I hope that nothing happens to you… .”

Kausch said MTV’s legal team was useful to a point, but because the stalkers were anonymous and had not issued a specific threat against her, there was not much she could do.

“Legal is an all-female team, everyone had experienced a certain degree of doxing or threats,” she said, adding that she and her mother decided not to report the harassment of the police.

Sarah Kogod, a former director of development for the sports website SB Nation who has led workshops on how to deal with online harassment, said the threats are difficult to treat, both for the police and the social media networks themselves.

“The general rule is that if it is a direct threat, all jurisdictions will take that seriously,” she said. “The challenge is when the communication is vague. It is brushed off as someone a jerk. In most cases, it is.”

She encourages the liberal use of the block feature, and think that companies need to better to deal with online harassment.

“I really have the feeling that organisations have a responsibility to ensure that they can serve as guidance for their staff that harassment,” off-and online, ” she said.

It’s something Kopp, the station manager, has considered. Although he used to be sharp online words as those to remove them from the news of the department’s Facebook page, he wonders how to deal with the in-person threat of the evil man with the megaphone. He explains in the new surveillance cameras and people must be buzzed in the front door, something that seems to be a dislike to the station community-oriented approach.

“We have potlucks with the doors wide open, for the community to get right in to see what a radio station looks like. I don’t want to stop,” he said.

A few weeks ago, the man marched past a receptionist in the on-air studio. By the time the police arrived the man was back on public land. So far, Kopp has called police twice on the guy, but there is no arrest.

“I think some of these people are unstable, and in the current environment, I don’t know what I could have anyone in the wrong direction. It is a constant worry, now more than ever,” said Kopp.

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