The online sphere is inherently insecure. People don't like to hear that. By the same token, governments like to use the lack of security online to pass laws that may limit freedom of speech. Governments (ours and theirs) also are harvesting and using online data in ways that are very disturbing. All of these issues are difficult for journalists to cover, particularly when words such as 'terrorism' and 'cyberterrorism' get tossed around. Here are a few ideas for journalists to navigate this, based on academic work in this area.
1. Be mindful of how frames and agenda setting work. Don't fall into representations and short-cuts that play into non-democratic agendas. Don't be afraid to contest the desires of both the government and your audience for easy, 'rally-round-the-flag' narratives.
2. Define your terms. Who is a 'terrorist'? What is considered a 'terrorist' act? What IS cyber-terrorism? Who is violating your cyber-security (hint: it's probably a foreign government). Tell your readers how you define your terms. Tell them often. Make them mindful as well.
3. Try to think of ways to "humanize" the cybersecurity frame. Find ways to tell the story that show the consequences of the lack of security online. Explain the tradeoffs between 'safety' and 'freedom' online. Government policy isn't sexy, but it's critically important to democracy and freedom of speech, especially in the current internet era.
4. Expand your sources. Find people who are not in the government and not in the protest community to help navigate the story.
5. Know your value. In covering cybersecurity issues well, you are preserving democracy and free speech. Journalists are the frontline soldiers in this fight.
Philip Merrill College of Journalism
University of Maryland