In conjunction with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the International Women’s Media Foundation, TrollBusters Founder Dr. Michelle Ferrier will be co-leading a workshop to develop strategic initiatives for female journalists under attack online. “Online Harassment of Female Journalists: From Impact to Action,” will be hosted on Thursday, September 13, from noon to 1:30 p.m. at the J.W. Marriott Austin Hotel in Austin, Texas.
Building on the gap analysis Ferrier led at the Internet Freedom Forum, the invitation-only workshop will share a new report funded by the Craig Newmark Philanthropies on the impact of online and physical abuse on journalists. We will discuss policies, strategies, tactics and management best practices for addressing this persistent and dangerous issue.
Contact email@example.com if you will be attending the Online News Association and have a contribution to bring to the dialogue.
In an unusual move of coordinated action, newspapers across the United States shared editorials and commentary this week on the values of a free press, pushing back against President Donald Trump‘s attacks on the press as “enemies of the people.”
Many police departments post mugshots online to name and shame those arrested. Recently the online posts of Berkeley Police Department were used by websites coordinating White Lives Matter rallies to target protestors. The doxing of those who have been placed in public view causes their continued harassment. Read about our client and the continued fights over Mugshots.com, the company using off-shore servers to continue to operate.
While alt-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his Infowars is in the center of a public debate about Internet platforms censoring content, these websites control public discourse using algorithms that protect some offensive content while deleting other content.
Parents of children who were targeted at the Sandy Hook Elementary School are still trying to prove that the shooting wasn’t a hoax. Conspiracy theorists have been rampantly using the internet to spread misinformation about the incident but some websites are protecting these conspiracy attacks more than others.
When Orange is the New Black star Ruby Rose, an openly lesbian actress, was cast to play the lesbian Batwoman, it was a historicmoment for queer representation in the media. That is until trolls harassed Rose so much, she quit Twitter.
In our men behaving very, very badly file, a pilot from United Airlines shared explicit photos of a flight attendant. The U.S. government is now suing United for creating a hostile work environment but United told Insider that it “will vigorously defend against this case.”
Student press are increasingly under attack from coordinated external groups seeking to target an individual journalist or fracture an already contentious campus atmosphere. Gershon Harrell of the KentWired.com reports in April 2018 that Madison Newingham, a liberal political activist and junior double majoring in political science and history, drew the attention of internet trolls for her columns in The Kent Stater.
Figure 1. Madison Newingham leads a pro-choice rally.
“People would call me an idiot and stupid and a lot more vulgar words,” Newingham said in the KentStater. “I was appalled. I had no idea people would attack my character because of my beliefs.”
Harrell reports that female students and students of color were most attacked at Kent State. Newingham recalls her time at The Kent Stater, where most of her trolls were younger men or “baby boomer men.”
“I wrote an article about sexual assault and one guy literally told me he hopes I was assaulted,” Newingham said. “I was kind of like, ‘Ha! Jokes on you, I was!’”
Newingham says she became uncomfortable speaking in public and stayed off campus as much as she could.
Encountering these online attacks early may derail these young journalists from their career paths. Many rethink their professional paths, choosing strategic communication, public relations, or other communication fields where they can limit public exposure.
What Students and Educators Can Do
Students should think about how they use social media and consider changing their names or setting up separate professional accounts as they move on through the profession.
Set up separate phone lines for professional and personal calls. Same with email.
Get your own domain name. Set up a website. Make sure your name is the top result/first page on search engines.
Use a post office box to remove a physical footprint to your doorstep.
Set up privacy protections on any domain names you own.
At least 11 Huffington Post reporters were doxed and threatened online by the alt-right in May 2018 after reporter Luke O’Brien produced a story that identified the Twitter account of social media user @AmyMek, suspected of spreading hate speech. Doxing is when personal information, such as work or home address and telephone numbers are distributed on the web.
O’Brien said he received thousands of threatening and harassing tweets following the article. The account @AmyMek, promoted this thread below, encouraging her followers to go after the HuffPost:
The recent deaths of five journalists at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland on Thursday underscore the hostile environment journalists are experiencing here in the United States. News organizations are reporting that the shooter had a long-standing anger at the newspaper for coverage surrounding a stalking charge reported from a police report. The shooter used a variety of social media accounts to lob jabs and physical threats at the newspaper staff over the years and filed and lost a defamation lawsuit against the organization. And most recent reports indicate that the shooter had also sent threatening letters to the news organization just days before this attack on Thursday, reports NBC. The 2:33 pm shootings at the Capital Gazette headquarters were preceded by years of online attacks against the organization and its personnel.
The subject line of TrollBusters’ 8 a.m. Thursday morning newsletter: Underestimating online threats can be deadly. We were referring to the recent death of a Japanese blogger who was giving a talk on online harassment, when his online stalker met him after the talk and killed the blogger. We did not know it would become the epitaph for our colleagues at the Capital Gazette.
These are dangerous times. The Boston Globe reports that Capital Gazette staff have received threats after the attack, celebrating the massacre. And as one reporter recently tweeted:
“People are going to say that journalists are overreacting,” tweeted Anne Helen Petersen, a Buzzfeed reporter cited by the Associated Press who said she’s received emailed death threats and someone who threatened to slit her dog’s throat.
Petersen tweeted. “We’ve been under-reacting for years.”
In today’s Boston Globe, @NotesfromHel describes the hate she and other women journalists of color have endured for years. Death threats should not be part of the job, Helen Ubinas, wrote in her column “The hate we get: Why journalists need to stop accepting threats as part of the job.” Ubinas describes why she has publicized these audio, text and verbal threats that she receives on every platform.
“Why? Because … receipts, but also because for years journalists — women and journalists of color especially — were expected to absorb the threats and hatred in silence, while others, often in the very same newsrooms, had the luxury of being blissfully unaware.”
“That was BS then. And it’s BS now.” calls Ubinas. As founder of TrollBusters, I too hold “receipts” of the years of hate mail I received as the first African-American columnist at a Florida newspaper. My experiences led me to create TrollBusters to support journalists from online threats and provide coaching to media organizations on navigating digital threats.
TrollBusters joins with the Associated Press Media Editors and the American Society of News Editors, in honoring our Capital Gazette colleagues this Thursday, July 5 at 2:33 p.m. with a moment of silence. The organizations have issued this list of safety practices to protect against physical attack.
However, the document does not provide management guidance on how to navigate online threats — before they result in physical attacks. TrollBusters provides coaching, infographics, education and training work and a growing consortium of organizations are working to combat online abuse and threats, particularly among journalists.
This week, TrollBusters is releasing its Global Safety Resource Hub, a geotagged directory of country-specific resources and organizations working to combat online abuse and threats against journalists. The Google map includes journalism professional organizations, governmental organizations, nonprofit organizations, training and education institutions, professional organizations and others working around the globe on online harassment and privacy issues.
We want our colleagues around the world to be able to receive just-in-time resources to combat online and physical threats. We invite you to suggest additional global resources to protect journalists under attack at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition, media management must examine their social media policies and protect their talent online and off. Here are some recommendations for immediate action as suggested by journalists from our research:
Educate management on the challenges journalists face in the field and assist management with devising strategy for prevention and greater security (both physical and digital).
Publish attacks on media sites to call attention to circulating rumors; support your journalists and their work.
Take threats more seriously by investigating and/or providing security while working.
Close off commenting on an article that is drawing fire.
Provide additional personnel on live shots or Facebook Live shoots.
Your Honor, perhaps you can imagine how hard it was to begin to piece together my life without work and with websites like MugShot.com propagating my false arrest all over the internet…After paying to get my mugshot removed from these online sites, it simply crops up on another new site that extorts more money to remove my image. —Bart Christner
Dr. Michelle Ferrier, TrollBusters: The following statement was read into court records during one of the hearings of our client, Bart Christner. This story illustrates the long arm of Internet justice and the intended AND unintended consequences of Mugshots.com, as illustrated through this digital nightmare. We reported on the arrest of Mugshots.com owners here on charges of extortion and identity theft. Bart is now free from the stalking charges and gag orders of the court that prevented him from even sharing his story in his own defense. Here is his story of identity theft, revenge, and his stolen life.
January 2015 Statement to Judicial Court
DEFENDANT: Barton James Christner
CLAIMANT: Darth Beckyzilla of the Digital Underworld and Keeper of the Toxic White Tears, aka Becky [real name redacted by TrollBusters].
DEFENDANT: Your Honor, please allow me to read this statement into the court record. Because I have been unable to afford or get legal counsel, I am representing myself in court today to try to clear my name. This is an emotional issue for me because as I hope to demonstrate to you today, that I am the actual victim in this case.
I am here today because of a personal vendetta against me begun by [hereafter referred to as Becky] in 2010 that continues today. She has perpetrated this vendetta both online an off with a series of restraining orders against me, coupled with imposter social media profiles that have defamed my character by linking me to child pornography. Over the past three years, Becky has destroyed my identity, my reputation, and my ability to support my family. She has succeeded in persecuting me, beyond understanding and reason, to try to destroy my marriage and my life.
She stole images of my friend’s 9-year-old daughter, posted them to the fake site and typed “SEX” as the status, implicating me in child pornography.
Becky is a woman scorned. I believe I can demonstrate today that these malicious actions stem from an emotionally unstable woman who felt spurned when I left her to date another woman. Not just another woman, but an African-American woman who I married months after I left Becky. Becky has threatened my life and that of my wife. In Becky’s eyes, I added insult to injury when I left her by marrying as she writes in this letter “that black slave bitch.”
Your Honor, this letter was left on my car months after I left Becky. Becky and I had dated in 2010 for a period of six months. During that time, I taught as an assistant professor at a local college, traveling to other countries to do training in photography and digital media. But I also sensed something wasn’t right with Becky, and in August 2010, I broke up with her. Becky confronted me in public at a restaurant after our breakup where in a drunken tirade she berated me, beat me and destroyed my camera and computer equipment. She called the police, claiming it was I that attacked her. But eyewitnesses and restaurant videotape proved her to be a liar. I filed a criminal mischief [charge] against her. In exchange for dropping the charges, she agreed to replace my destroyed equipment and invited me to her home to pick it up. I had no idea this would be the beginning of her revenge plan. Nor did I have any idea of the web of lies Becky would use to destroy me.
When I picked up the replacement equipment at Becky’s home, Becky cornered me in the garage as I was packing up my things and threatened me that if I left, I would be sorry. She then refused to open the garage door and called the police. While safely standing on her garage steps, she proceeded to detail to police a hysterical story that I was attacking her. She emphasized her small size and that she felt threatened, but when questioned by the dispatcher, she became unclear as to why she did not leave the garage and seek safety. The police came to her home, questioned the both of us, then said that one of us had to go to the police station. The police believed that I was the aggressor and booked me on assault charges. She used this first arrest to perpetuate a series of stalking charges and extensions against me in criminal court that have been proven false after a 1 ½ year investigation. Her niece who was living with her at the time of this alleged assault, first told a story supporting her aunt. She later recanted and supported my version of the story. However, Becky has filed in family court with the same stalking charges, which is why we are here today.
The arrest from that day resulted in the police mug shot that Becky used in generating several fake social media profiles on Facebook and LinkedIn under variations of my name. She created eight total over a period of two years. The first appeared on Dec. 2013, with the mug shot from that 911 call in her garage as the profile picture. Becky began posting innocuous status updates, luring my friends to “refriend” her. Then her posts turn to a more sinister side. She solicited money from my friends under my name. She stole images of my friend’s 9-year-old daughter, posted them to the fake site and typed “SEX” as the status, implicating me in child pornography. She contacted my tenure committee chair at the university where I had received glowing support from top leaders. I was ultimately denied tenure and my contract was not renewed. I lost my job.
If you look closely at the profiles, you can see that they implicate me as a child sex molester. I think it’s crazy, as Becky claims, that I created these websites myself. Why would I, as a professional photographer, use an unflattering mugshot of myself? Why would I implicate myself in the serious charge of child pornography? If law enforcement really believed that I had created these sites, Your Honor, they would have already been at my door with a search warrant and had me behind bars.
Your Honor, perhaps you can imagine how hard it was to begin to piece together my life without work and with websites like MugShot.com propagating my false arrest all over the internet. I left the state and moved to Pennsylvania, where I started a job working for the Washington Arts Council and maintained a long-distance relationship with my girlfriend.
But Becky wasn’t through with me yet. She wrote letters to my employer and posted comments online, implicating me in child pornography. She wrote additional handwritten letters. Her activity both online and off escalated when I became engaged to my girlfriend on engaged in 2011 and again when I married her on January 1, 2014.
Becky left additional handwritten notes on my vehicles parked in my driveway in [redacted]. Here, she apologizes for what she has done and admits to her actions and asks that I come back to her, after my engagement. The earlier letter I showed was also delivered to my home. These letters match the handwriting of court statements she has written in my case. She even is consistent in her misspellings, a trademark she leaves in these documents as well as online comments that point to her as the creator of these imposter online sites.
Becky has perpetuated this web of lies for more than three years. She lied to the arresting officer at [redacted] Restaurant and was caught in that lie by eyewitnesses, the deputy himself and video from the restaurant. She lied in the 9-1-1 call to police from her home. She lied in subsequent court documents and in court, using these old unsustained charges to perpetuate a veneer of stalking she attributes to me. Your Honor, I don’t understand what stable person would persist in this type of activity, even after my marriage to my wife nearly two years after leaving the relationship with Becky.
Her vicious actions include the death threats to me and my wife and have extended over the past three years. I went from making more than $100,000 a year to the job I currently hold in County Schools making $20,000 a year. She has contacted my employers and my photography clients, destroying by ability to earn an income. I have spent time living out of my car because she has destroyed my reputation and my ability to hold a job.
Because of the continued extensions on the stalking charges, I was never able to file my own charges against her. While she has sought protection from the courts and received legal support for her supposed domestic violence, she has pursued me both online and off in a vendetta to destroy my life. As the actual victim of her stalking, I’ve been denied legal support and the ability to even clear my own name. After paying to get my mugshot removed from these online sites, it simply crops up on another new site that extorts more money to remove my image. I sought assistance from County Detectives on October 2014 to get a subpoena to reveal the origins of the computer that created the fake profiles. After a year in which these detectives indicated they were investigating my case, I have no subpoena, no support for helping clear my name, and am denied the legal assistance I might have been afforded by the courts because I am seen as the perpetrator here and not the victim.
Becky would have you believe that I am stalking her, both online and physically. However, it is Becky that has maintained a relationship with me, as the evidence presented has shown. Becky would claim that I’ve communicated with her via her friends and former associates. My only reason for contacting anyone associated with Becky is to have them step forward to help me clear my name. That includes current and former friends as well as media organizations that I have asked to help me with my counterclaims. Becky would claim that this contact is emotional distress to her. I can imagine how she would believe this as it exposes all her lies to her friends and family.
Becky has since gone on with her life in the past three years, dating other men both single and married. She has used the “domestic violence” ploy before, with her ex-husband and subsequent boyfriends. When Becky doesn’t get her way, she has played the police and the courts against those who have wronged her, both the innocent and those that went on to run afoul of the law. And some of these people are truly dangerous folks. They have been arrested for drug trafficking, assault and murder. They are associated with organized crime. Becky travels in very dark circles.
Our mutual friends are terrified of Becky, which is why it has been difficult to get anyone to court to testify on my behalf. Many of these people still live in  and  Counties. Many have had their own experiences with Becky and are afraid of the people with whom she is associated, including local law enforcement, former elected officials along with the string of unsavory people associated with Becky outlined in the document I presented. They are afraid of retaliation because of the way in which Becky has systematically and persistently sought to destroy my life. However, I have letters from friends and employers that demonstrate my professionalism and honesty in these proceedings.
Your Honor, my wife and my friends are terrified to come forward because of Becky and her associates. My wife and I have seven children between us and we are afraid for our family and our lives. My wife is not here today because she is paralyzed by the evil and racial hate that Becky represents. She just hopes that this will all go away. But three years later, here we are and I don’t believe Becky will stop until she destroys my marriage through her stalking actions or by death to my wife or me.
As I mentioned earlier, I sought assistance from County Police to help investigate my case. I’ve provided them with some of the evidence I’ve show here today. But when I showed up to understand why I was undergoing yet another hearing to extend Becky’s stalking charges, I was locked up in jail for 5 days, extradited to County where a judge finally looked at the paperwork and released me immediately. I lost my job yet again and it was only through external references that I was able to regain my job.
In the past three years, I have not had contact with Becky. All contact has been initiated by Becky, both online and off. I have just sought to build support for my case and try to regain my name, my reputation and my life.
Your honor, I have documents to support each of the events in the timeline I’ve presented here today. I have reached out to friends, law enforcement and the media to help me stop this harassment. And yet here I stand today, for the fourth time, still defending myself against these spurious charges by Becky and her attorney. Please your Honor. Take a look at the documents I’ve provided here to support my version of the story. All I am trying to do is clear my name. I ask that you give me that opportunity today by denying Becky any further manipulations of the law and the courts. Please deny her this extension of the restraining order on stalking.
—End of Statement—
Transcript of Final Two Minutes of Bart’s Final Hearing and Judge’s Apology
UPDATE FROM BART CHRISTNER: “January 2018 I was contracted as a media expert in a court room to validate a video had not been edited or retouched. The father in the divorce and custody case was an attorney and he Googled my name, and found and printed my mugshot pulled from mugshots.com. In April 2018, the father submitted these mugshot images to the custody judge saying that, ‘Bart Christner is a man with a checkered past and should not be allowed near my son.’ The judge – despite nolle prosse [do not prosecute from prior charges]- upheld the father’s wish…
…Tarred and feathered for life — because my mugshot is posted on Mugshots.com.”
Bart Christner is a photographer living in Mugshots.com Land, barely making it by.
Mugshots.com owners Sahar Sarid, Kishore Vidya Bhavnanie, Thomas Keesee, and David Usdan were arrested last week on charges of extortion, money laundering and identity theft. Their online platform featured public record mug shots of those who encounter the U.S. justice system, whether on warrant or spurious charges. Those people featured in these mug shots are required to pay removal fees to get the images taken down, with some costs up to $400.
While the Mugshots.com features a Federal Credit Reporting Act disclaimer saying the information on the site should not be used for credit, employment or other decisions, the website has in fact operated as such, ruining lives as its owners pocketed more than $2 million in removal fees from desperate people featured on the site.
TrollBusters worked with our client, a White male photographer who worked teaching at a Southeastern university and doing photography for a local newspaper, who briefly dated a White woman. She ruined our client’s life using Mugshots.com imagery, imposter sites and a combination of physical stalking charges to discredit, dishonor and destroy our client’s life. We’ll call this woman Becky for short. Her full name is Darth Beckyzilla of the Digital Underworld and Keeper of the Toxic White Tears. But Becky for our purposes.
Here is Bart Christner’s story as told to two of the judges that he’d been hauled in front of by Becky. TrollBusters worked with Bart to present his case to law enforcement, the courts, employers and others to regain his reputation. MugShots.com preyed on people like Bart Christner and exploited his reputation for their profit.
Today, Bart’s photo is still on Mugshots.com, right where the mug shots of Sahar Sarid, Kishore Vidya Bhavnanie, Thomas Keesee, and David Usdan should be. As of this post, Mugshots.com has stopped updating its website.
“Alexa, turn off the lights. Read me a bedtime story…”
This innocuous command may someday be used to determine the insurance eligibility of the user. Research has shown that children who stay up late have behavioral and academic problems. User data, combined with other identifiable data about bedtimes and sleep habits could be used in scenario modeling or algorithms that determine health insurance or risk for other financial and employment-enabled uses.
The mash up of big data makes these scenarios highly possible.
It’s this secondary use of your private data that the new General Data Protection Regulation seeks to protect. In a nutshell, GDPR protects consumer data collected by the private sector and gives users authority to control further uses. The regulation emanates from the European Union to provide protections for its various member states’ citizens. However, the GDPR affects companies collecting data from international users – including media companies and social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Facebook and Twitter have recently released new privacy guidelines, in advance of the GDPR that takes effect on Friday, May 25. You may have noticed the updates to privacy terms on platforms like Hootsuite or MailChimp.
Dr. Ann Cavoukian is a three-term privacy commissioner of Ontario and a distinguished expert-in-residence leading the Privacy by Design Centre of Excellence at Ryerson University. Cavoukian developed the privacy by design framework that is the basis of the GDPR regulations.
“Privacy is not about secrecy…it’s about control and the uses of data that the user has consented to. GDPR shifts from model of negative consent –to find the opt-out box for data collection,” Cavoukian said. “But it doesn’t mean people don’t want privacy. With GDPR, it’s privacy by default, it’s the exact opposite…companies cannot use your data except for the original intended purpose.”
On May 17, Cavoukian spoke at RightsCon in Toronto on the panel “10 Days Before GDPR” to discuss implications of the new EU policies. She was joined on the panel by Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin, chair of the CNIL-French Data Protection Authority; Joe McNamee, executive director of European Digital Rights and Jeremy Rollison, vice chair of Microsoft’s digital economy committee. Estelle Masse, senior policy analyst with Access Now moderated the panel.
Rollison said in the digital age data is fertile. “It gets together with other data and makes babies. Beware the baby data,” he said.
Cavoukian said in the days of ubiquitous computing through the Internet of Things, the cases coming to her center were a fraction of what was actually happening…the majority were evading our detection.”
Recent examples of data breaches and data use that compromised users include Edward Snowden and the leak of classified government surveillance programs, Facebook and Cambridge Analytica’s use of user data, the breach of Equifax credit reporting and Anthem Insurance data.
“Privacy control has enormous societal value, “ said Cavoukian. “You cannot have freedom without it.”
Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin Chair, CNIL (French Data Protection Authority)Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin, chair of CNIL, the French Data Protection Authority, shared the three main objectives of the GDPR:
1) “Make sure citizens recognize their rights,” she said. “In European countries, we’ve provided resources to ensure new possibilities for action.”
2) “A private sector understanding of the provisions of GDPR to make sure the guidelines are understood by all;” and,
3) “New way of cooperation will work through the data protection authorities to enforce the guidelines.”
What is new in the process is the data protection authority network from which civil society may seek redress for violations of the GDPR. It is an operational network to receive complaints and make common decisions. Early rulings from the data protection authorities will clarify compliance and consequences spelled out, like interpretations of “legitimate interest,” the legal language in the regulation that defines the primary use of data.
The GDPR is a hybridization of EU concepts and privacy principles borrowed from other countries: privacy by design principles are adopted from Canada and accountability principles have been adopted from the U.S. Even though Canada and the United States have not signed on to the GDPR, efforts are being made to extend these principles globally. The campaign #GDPRFORALL is advocating for these privacy protections to be available all over the world.
Rollison asks whether the rest of the world is prepared to NOT have a GDPR-type policy in place.
“One half of U.S. households refrained from using certain apps or services for fear of privacy issues…there’s a chill on discourse because of privacy and security fears,” Rollison said. “Is the U.S. prepared NOT to have laws in place?” he asks.
WASHINGTON, DC — Canary in a coal mine. That’s how one Ohio University journalism professor describes herself when she began to talk about the online abuse she received more than 15 years ago as a newspaper columnist. However, today’s brand of social media intimidation, she says, can be swift and painful. And the techniques used today have been refined over the years to specifically target journalists.
She knows. Dr. Michelle Ferrier is the founder of TrollBusters, a rescue service for journalists against online abuse. On April 27, she spoke about the changing digital attacks on journalists at the National Press Club where she was joined by Ohio University alum Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post, Soraya Chemaly of the Women’s Media Center, Jonathan Weisman of The New York Times, and Julia Ioffe of The Atlantic . The four convened for a panel,“ Trolling the News: Protecting Journalists from Online Harassment,” hosted by PEN America and the National Press Club Journalism Institute.
Suzanne Nossel, chief executive officer of PEN America, moderated the session. She offered sobering news:
“We see so many attacks on the press …their work is to report and to expose and to hold accountable which could not be more critical at this moment. But they need allies,” said Nossel. At the event, PEN America released its Online Harassment Field Guide, a new tool to help writers and journalists protect themselves from online abuse.
Ferrier says what we are now seeing online is a visible tip of what has been underground for years. When she searched for the origins from her own attacks, she found that hate mail was a tactic used by white supremacist groups to instill fear. Ferrier described the recent example of a Florida journalist who used social sourcing to reach out to victims in the Parkland high school shooting. Her tweets were altered to look as if she was racially biased in her reporting.
Ferrier said the fake tweets, smart mobs and bot attacks are designed to create fear and intimidation and to discredit the work of journalists. “If they can sow mistrust, if they can isolate and separate people and have them fighting among each other…they’ve done their job because then we don’t get the deep reporting that we need. We don’t have those diverse voices in the media.”
Ferrier started TrollBusters three years ago as she observed a rise in targeted activity against journalists. She provides just-in-time coaching and tools to journalists under attack.
“Unless it’s happened to you before, you don’t really understand the consistent, persistent nature of what’s happening. Fifty tweets an hour… 100 tweets an hour coming at you. There’s a chilling effect that happens both on the individual journalist and on their ability to gather and report news,” she said.
Lowery described the types of online attacks he endured during reports on Ferguson, Missouri for the Washington Post:
“What we saw were especially from these kind of online, far-right figures. There were these sustained harassment campaigns. Every time you would open your phone, the would be thousands upon thousands of new interactions – bad faith interactions, fabricated interactions.”
Fifty tweets an hour… 100 tweets an hour coming at you. There’s a chilling effect that happens both on the individual journalist and on their ability to gather and report news.
The panelists discussed potential solutions, but found that the technology solutions are limited, while the attackers and their methods keep evolving. Chemaly described the shift from text to pictures that makes it difficult for machine-learning algorithms to discern hate speech and threats.
“If you are a woman or a person of color, the harassment that you get is often in images, not words,” said Chemaly. “So memes, pornographic videos and deep fakes – all of those are not captured in the current attempts to solve the problem by looking at text,” Chemaly said.
Ferrier said even the blocking and content reporting functions can be compromised.
“They are weaponizing the very tools designed to help us. And so whether it’s blocking tools, organized smart mobs on 4Chan and 8Chan or Reddit are using different dark web channels to go after people who haven’t done anything and report them.”
The attackers flag content or block en masse, triggering an automatic account suspension. The target must challenge these reports to the platforms, which are oftentimes slow to respond, Ferrier said.
“Women and women journalists of color have experienced this silencing tactic,” Ferrier said. “When social media is your avenue for engaging with your readers or viewers and you no longer have an account, that affects your work and it affects your ability to earn a living.”
Reporters Without Borders recently downgraded U.S. on its press freedoms from 43 place to 45 out of 180 countries because of the high-profile media bashing in the past year. Unfortunately, Ferrier says, it’s working. “Whether it is through content that’s manipulated in a way to paint the journalist in a bad light or through explicit sexualized video or death threats, the whole purpose of all this activity is to discredit the media and its ability to be effective in speaking truth to power.”