Jessikka Aro, a Finnish investigative journalist, was set to receive accolades from the U.S. State Department due to her informative and important work detailing Russian online interference campaigns.
As early as 2014, Aro had discovered and written about efforts by Russian troll farms that were waging propaganda campaigns online, an effort to influence citizens in other countries to adopt pro-Russian ideals, the BBC reported in 2017. Her reporting led to severe harassment on the part of these trolls, who spread fake news articles about Aro’s life and disseminated her personal information online for others to see, including her home address — an abusive practice known as “doxxing.”
For her amazing journalistic work and integrity, the State Department had sent a message to Aro, telling her they intended to award her with an International Woman of Courage award. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was to give her the award personally.
But then, out of the blue, the State Department rescinded the award.
Aro was “incorrectly notified” she had been selected, a spokesperson from State had told her, a “regrettable error” on their part.
Yet anonymous officials familiar with the internal discussions about Aro’s duly-deserved award say there were other factors that led to the department pulling it away from her, including comments she’s made on social media criticizing President Donald Trump.
FP Exclusive: Finnish investigative journalist Jessikka Aro has had a State Department International Women of Courage Award rescinded. Sources say the reversal came after officials found posts critical of President Trump on Aro’s Twitter. https://t.co/1XlhydQpVH
— Foreign Policy (@ForeignPolicy) March 7, 2019
One official who spoke to Foreign Policy, which reported on the matter on Thursday, didn’t hold back in their assessment on what had transpired.
“It created a s***storm of getting her unceremoniously kicked off the list,” the official said. “I think it was absolutely the wrong decision on so many levels.”
That official added that the choice to take the award away from Aro “had nothing to do with her work” and everything to do with her views on the president.
Aro was taken aback by the rescinding of her award, and the possibility that it was done due to her views of the president.
“The reality in which political decisions or presidential pettiness directs top U.S. diplomats’ choices over whose human rights work is mentioned in the public sphere and whose is not is a really scary reality,” Aro said.