Expanding training for students and young professionals on navigating digital spaces is part of the plan for Dr. Michelle Ferrier and TrollBusters, the project she began in 2015 to fight online harassment against journalists. Ferrier, a professor in the School of Journalism & Graphic Communication at Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University recently received a $100,000 grant from Democracy Fund Voice to do just that.
Ferrier, a former columnist and journalist in Florida, received hate mail years ago on the job. These death threats continued for years and Ferrier began to build an organization to fight the rising troll armies and white nationalist groups in the United States and abroad. Her work and her research evolved into TrollBusters, just-in-time rescue services for journalists under attack online.
The grant from Democracy Fund Voice will allow TrollBusters to continue offering digital safety and online response training to students and expand mental health counseling services for journalists in crisis –and especially during this critical time in the U.S. politics and racial unrest.
“Online threats have culminated in physical violence against journalists. I want journalists to be prepared, be safe, and get the story,“ Ferrier said.
Ferrier is especially interested in preparing the next generation of journalists. Ferrier’s research into threats against journalists shows a concerted effort to discredit the work of journalists, particularly students and early-career journalists.
“The goal of these attacks is to dissuade students from pursuing a career in journalism,” Ferrier said. “Our data shows that younger journalists are targeted because they don’t have a professional history to lend credibility and history to their work,” she said.
“Student and professional journalists—especially women, people of color, LGBTQ folks, and people living at these intersections—are under increasing threat by malicious actors online. It is so crucial that they have the tools, resources, and support they need to protect themselves from these attacks, and Democracy Fund Voice is proud to support TrollBusters as a longtime leader in this space,” said Lea Trusty, program associate for the Public Square program at Democracy Fund Voice.
In March 2020, Ferrier provided online misinformation and verification tools to the Tallahassee media community. Ferrier presented on online harassment and the use of “fake news” to discredit and injure the reputation of journalists and media organizations.
“Journalists need to be prepared for the November elections and beyond,” Ferrier said. “Democracy is being decided on the interwebs and journalists are a key target and tool.”