How To Fight Imposter Tweets

Weekly News, Training & Resources

IN THE HEADLINES

  • Overdue: Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey says he’s not “proud of how people have taken advantage of our service, or our inability to address it fast enough.” He announced an RFP to help measure the health of conversations on the platform
  • Online harassment vs. the First Amendment: A liberal blog and a local tea party chapter joined forces to challenge an online harassment law in Ohio saying it would inhibit free speech. Their suit was dismissed.
  • It’s not just Twitter: Lincoln Park Strategies, RAD Campaign and Craig Newmark of craigconnects surveyed more than 1,000 people about online harassment. The results, presented in an easy-to-scan infographic, may surprise you.

IN YOUR MAILBOX

TrollBusters cardsNew from TrollBusters! Our infographic on what to do if you’re being harassed online are now available as cards. The front details the types of threats that journalists experience online. The back tells you what you should do next. Email us if you’d like us to send you one for yourself or a set for your newsroom! Card packs are $5 each. Postage is included in the cost.

What We Can Learn From #Parkland

TrollBusters founder Michelle Ferrier writes about the case of Alex Harris, a Miami-Herald journalist who was harassed online after bots and others doctored her tweets. Read more in What We Can Learn from #Parkland.

ON YOUR CALENDAR

Save the Date!

There are lots of women-centric events happening this month and TrollBusters will be there:

  • The #InternetFF will fight censorship and surveillance March 5-9 in Spain. TrollBusters, along with the International Women’s Media Foundation and the Committee to Protect Journalists are hosting a workshop on building global supports for womxn journalists: Learn more.
  • March 8 is International Women’s Day. Follow #IWD2018.
  • We’ll be following the 62nd session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women #CSW62 from March 12-23. TrollBusters Founder Dr. Michelle Ferrier will present as a guest of the International Association of Women in Radio & Television on #MeToo and online harassment. The review theme for #CSW62 is “participation in and access of women to the media, and information and communications technologies and their impact on and use as an instrument for the advancement and empowerment of women.” http://ow.ly/YOQu30iJEp

What We Can Learn From #Parkland

Alex Harris, a journalist with the Miami-Herald, reached out using social media in the aftermath of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School attack on February 14. She sent out a query on Twitter, seeking anyone to talk. Like many journalists, social sourcing is critical to her work, especially in breaking news scenarios, Harris said in an interview with NPR. “Twitter is where you reach out to people who are self-selected saying, I’m in this situation, I am in a place where I can say something on social media.”

IMG_5445She sent the tweet. And the dark web sent back an altered, Photoshopped version, suggesting that Harris was inappropriately soliciting stories from witnesses.

And then the doctored tweets went viral, fueled by a deep distrust of the media. The doctored tweet provided confirmation bias to a Twitter audience that hollers #fakemedia.

But this WAS #fakemedia. And the detail of the Photoshopped tweet, complete with a time-stamp and a check indicating a Twitter verified account, did fool many, including other journalists who retweeted the fakes.

What Harris Did Right

Harris quickly tweeted about the false tweets, getting in front of the swarm. She specified how the language of the tweet had been altered, without retweeting the original. Harris did not go after each of the trolls; she stated the facts of what was happening online.

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Harris reported the activity right away to Twitter. Even though it was futile, Harris forced @Twitter to respond on the platform. The public engagement with @TwitterSupport was visible in her social stream, verifying that she was actively engaged around the issue with Twitter.

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Harris forced @Twitter to clarify its policies. Imposter accounts are against the rules. Imposter tweets are not, said @TwitterSupport And she got Jack Dorsey to admit he has no scalable solution. Twitter executives will take to Capitol Hill on Monday, March 5 to explain to lawmakers why the platform is challenged when fighting #fakenews and disinformation.

Alex-Harris_Dorsey_twitter-response

Harris quickly garnered online support. Fellow journalists, including Wes Lowery of the Washington Post jumped in and amplified Harris’ call that she was being impersonated through the doctored tweets. Others offered emotional support against the barrage of outrage coming at Harris. Some even helped to explain how journalists work, justifying Harris’ actions and bolstering her professionally online.

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Mixed in with the Twitter swarm were critiques of Harris’ professional work and how she had conducted herself online. But as Harris pointed out to NPR’s Ari Shapiro, “Twitter is everything in these breaking news scenarios because media these days relies even more and more on first-person accounts. And you don’t always trust law enforcement to give you the perfectly correct information the first time around or as quickly as people want it and as quickly as people need it.”

But the same speed advantage that Twitter provides to journalists to get those first-person reports also accelerates the swarm effect. Harris feels that the Twitter storm made it difficult for her to do her job.

Alex-Harris_1

The imposter tweets had achieved their objective – to cast doubt on the credibility of a journalist. And according to Harris, the tweets diminished the overall reporting efforts of her team, impeding their ability to tell the story.

What TrollBusters Did

Team TrollBusters was monitoring online when the attack against Harris was happening. We went into action:

  1. We put a warning tweet into Harris’ Twitter feed. We let the trolls know that we were monitoring activity on her feed. And we let Harris know that she could report to TrollBusters and we would continue to actively monitor her account. IMG_5466
  2. TrollBusters began to monitor Harris’ feed, capturing activity for future evidence.
  3. We amplified her message that she was under attack to our followers.
  4. We began digital forensics work to determine who was the source of the attack.
  5. We actively reported suspicious tweets to Twitter.
  6. We discovered bot accounts behind much of the retweet activity. We reported bot activity to Twitter.

Beyond our introduction tweet, we don’t operate in someone’s feed without their permission. Had Harris reached out and reported her online abuse at http://www.troll-busters.com, we would have been able to reach out with additional resources to protect her and her online reputation.

If you’re experiencing harassment online, or know of someone who is, you can report an incident to TrollBusters at http://troll-busters.com/form-report-an-incident.html

Want to Avoid Online Abuse? “Be an Androgynous Cat.”

IN THE HEADLINES

  • She Made Our List: Our heroine this month is Moira Donegan, who created the “Shitty Media Men” list in a private Google document. The list was designed to help young women in media avoid taking jobs that would expose them to sexual harassment, sexual assault and worse. It was intended to serve as a whisper network to women newer to the media industry who may not have had the luxury of access to the traditional “word of mouth” networks. When Katie Roiphe outed Donegan as the creator of the list in Harper’s, Donegan was faced with an onslaught of online harassment. Recently, she wrote about her journey in a compelling piece in The Cut. It’s a must-read.
  • “Want to avoid harassment? Be an androgynous cat”: Female startup founder Julia Enthoven shares the connections she found between gender and online abuse.
  • Fake Tweets Meet Russian Trolls: Miami Herald reporter Alex Harris was covering the Parkland shooting when criticism of her attempt to contact students in the wake of the disaster turned more menacing. Trolls doctored several of her tweets to make it look like she had asked if the shooter was white or if photo or video was available of the dead bodies. USA Today wrote about how this and similar trolling incidents intersect with fake news and Russian bots.
  • Nurses Face Online Abuse: Research shows that in New Zealand, nurses are among the groups vulnerable to cyberbullying as a result of their work. An article in The Conversation asks what should employers be doing to protect them.
  • Enough, She Says: UK Prime Minister Theresa May made headlines when she advocated banning abuse of politicians and public figures online and punishing social media corporations who enable it. Arguments ensued about the role of free speech and technology platforms in a democracy.

TROLLBUSTERS IN THE NEWS

New Book Features TrollBusters

A new book, Mediating Misogyny: Gender, Technology and Harassment, features a chapter from TrollBusters founder Michelle Ferrier about her efforts and online abuse of women journalists. Co-written with Dr. Nisha Garud, the chapter focuses on the individual and news-gathering impacts of online abuseRead more.

“The impact of online harassment is the same as the impact of physical harassment, namely intimidation inhibits women journalists from doing their jobs.” –  Elisa Lees Munoz

TrollBusters-infographic

READ as Elisa Lees Munoz, executive director of the International Women’s Media Foundation, writes about “How Digital Harassment of Female Journalists Threatens Freedom of Expression” in MediaShift. Featuring TrollBusters! [FEB. 27, 2018]

DON’T FORGET: TAKE OUR SURVEY! TrollBusters in conjunction with the International Women’s Media Foundation is still soliciting your experiences as a journalist or writer. Take the survey.

ON YOUR TO-DO LIST

Stay Safe

online protection rx header graphic
Time for an online security refresher? TrollBusters’ digital hygiene lessons will have you up to speed in no time.

Then, check out these other great resources on the web.

New Book Features TrollBusters – Mediating Misogyny: Gender, Technology and Harassment

Mediating Misogyny book coverA new book, Mediating Misogyny: Gender, Technology and Harassment, features a chapter from TrollBusters founder Dr. Michelle Ferrier about her efforts to curtail online abuse of women journalists. Co-authored with Dr. Nisha Garud, assistant journalism professor at San Jose State University, the piece focuses on the impacts of online abuse on individual journalists and news-gathering, reporting and engagement processes.

The chapter describes a “chilling effect” that happens when groups such as trolls on social media platforms make it difficult for others to exert their rights to freedom of expression. When pressure through online harassment is applied to silence individual journalists, the “chilling effect” extends to the free press as a whole.

“The chilling effect on individual journalists and journalistic lines of inquiry can lead to the silencing of diverse voices in the media, the technological takedown of a media site, or the abandonment of a line of investigative inquiry,“ the authors write.

They note that online harassment mimics the patterns of oppression and power differentials in the real world, disproportionately harming and silencing women, and ethnic and religious minorities. The problem is intensified by the requirement that journalists “bring their authentic, real identities to their digital work.” The chapter cites data from a 2013 study by the  International Women’s Media Foundation that found that ⅔ of the 149 female journalists they surveyed had been the victims of work-related threats or abuse.

Furthermore, the authors write, “Women journalists often are the targets of some of the most severe forms of online harassment such as rape threats, death threats and hate speech.”

Ferrier, an associate professor at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, is currently working with international partners to expand the International Women’s Media Foundation 2015 survey work. Journalists are invited to complete the 2018 survey.

The chapter offers steps female journalists can take to prevent online attacks. Among them:

  • Decide whether to use your real name or a pseudonym in your professional endeavors. If you use your real name, trolls can use it to find your physical address and family members.
  • Create separate social media accounts for your personal and professional endeavors.
  • Remove your address and other personal information from aggregator sites.
  • Communicate securely through encrypted channels such as Signal (not through email) with your sources.
  • Use the Tor browser for privacy.  
  • Learn self-defense, even if you aren’t reporting on what you would consider dangerous assignments.
  • Report any attacks you do experience to management, friends, colleagues and the police.

Bloodletting of Bot Accounts in #TwitterLockOut

Weekly News, Training & Resources

IN THE HEADLINES

Twitter Purge Tweet#TwitterLockOut hashtag activity peaked on Wednesday as Twitter purged bot accounts from users’ networks. Twitter’s actions — explained in this blog post — affected many Conservative accounts, prompting a #MAGA move to platforms like Gab. Russian bots had recently been active spreading hate around the Parkland, Florida high school shooting as reported in the New York Times.

Olympic Athletes Offer Inspiration: Even sports stars at the top of their game have to put up with trolling. Lindsey Vonn said she sleeps well at night despite receiving hate tweets after a mistake in the Super-G. Charlie White also shared how he handles Twitter trolls. The Independent details other athletes’ strategies for staying focused despite a barrage of negativity on social media.

OSCE Report Provides Recommendations for Media Management: A new report from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)’s Representative on Freedom of the Media details the threat online abuse of female journalists poses to freedom of the media. Founder of TrollBusters Dr. Michelle Ferrier worked with the OSCE on the report, part of the 2017 relaunch of OSCE’s Safety of Female Journalists online campaign (#SOFJO). In addition to the effects on individual journalists, online harassment poses a threat to the press as a whole, says the report. OSCE, which conducted targeted research, surveys and workshops between 2015 and 2017, presented some key recommendations for taking action in the report. Read our recap of their recommendations for media organizations or follow OSCE at @osce_rfom to stay up to date.

In other international headlines:

  • In Pakistan, the non-governmental organization DRF released a report, “Digital (In)Security of Journalists in Pakistan.” It shows that most journalists had experienced harassment in some form, which had in some cases led to self-censorship. Read the highlights.
  • In Australia, the proposed Dolly’s Law would work much like a domestic violence restraining order, The proposed law, named after a 14-year-old who took her own life after being cyberbullied, would ban perpetrators from social media, or at least from contacting their victims online.
  • And in Nigeria, Hajiya Maryam Ado-Haruna is calling for measures to prevent Gender-Based Violence Online.

TROLLBUSTERS IN THE NEWS

ijnet story screencap

READ this piece about TrollBusters’ services by Sherry Ricchiardi in IJNet. [February 20, 2018]

Ferrier presents at Scripps College

LISTEN as Michelle Ferrier talks to CBC’s Sook-Yin Lee about how TrollBusters is fighting to keep women writers online. [March 12, 2016]

IN THE CLASSROOM

Curriculum Teaches Student Reporters Safety Principles for Dangerous Assignments

Five organizations have come together to help the next generation of journalism students prepare for dangerous assignments, whether they involve war, organized crime and cartels, political revolution, or digital surveillance. The James W. Foley Legacy Foundation and the Medill School of Journalism’s National Security Journalism Initiative partnered with the Facebook Journalism Project, Reporters Without Borders and A Culture of Safety to create the four-session curriculum designed for use in reporting courses. Contact the Foley Foundation for access to the Journalist Safety Guide.

OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Report Makes Recommendations for Policymakers

A new report from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)’s Representative on Freedom of the Media details the threat online abuse of female journalists poses to freedom of the media. Founder of Trollbusters Michelle Ferrier authored the report, part of the 2017 relaunch of OSCE’s Safety of Female Journalists online campaign (#SOFJO). This installment of the report focuses on recommendations for civil society and policymakers.

The #SOFJO campaign sought to spread awareness of online abuse and its impacts on female journalists as well as provide tools, resources and other support to those who have been targeted.

Michelle Ferrier SOFJO campaign posterOnline harassment can have a silencing effect, particularly on female journalists, who, the report states, are trolled more often than their male counterparts. These threats, which can include rape, assault, exile and death, can lead to emotional distress, physical ailments and physical attack. In addition, the attacks can have devastating effects on female journalists’ career trajectories: they may stop writing, no longer report on important topics, use a pen name or have their job advancement opportunities diminished by the tarnishing of their reputations and journalistic credibility online. They fear for their safety and that of their families, and experience invasions into their privacy and prolonged stress.

Beyond the effects on individual journalists, online harassment, the OSCE report says, poses a threat to the press as a whole. OSCE, which conducted targeted research, surveys and workshops between 2015 and 2017, presented some key recommendations for taking action in the report. These recommendations were directed to policymakers and civil society, media organizations and individual journalists.

The report made these recommendations for policymakers and civil society:

• Consider providing physical and online support to targets of online abuse.
• Develop better education and training of journalists, management and information technology specialists about workflow protections and data management.
• Examine how social media policies may affect private and off-line time of journalists.
• Provide training to law enforcement to better investigate and prosecute online abuses.
• Work with technology partners to develop better reporting practices.
• Enforce existing legal frameworks and find new technological remedies to counter attacks by bots and smart mobs.

Learn More:
Read the full, final reports, including the latest Communiqué on the growing safety threat to female journalists online on the RFoM website at http://www.osce.org/representative-on-freedom-of-media

Follow the campaign on Twitter at @osce_rfom and the hashtag #SOFJO to keep up with the latest developments.

We’re Outnumbered, But Not Outsmarted 

In this roundup: Daring women, depressing stats and the history of online harassment and abuse.

  • Amnesty International recently released a report on women’s experiences with online abuse. They polled 4,000 women across eight countries. Twenty-three percent of those surveyed reported experiencing online harassment. Explore the findings.
  • In their Winter issue, Columbia Journalism Review explores doing journalism while female and the perils of work online.
  • In good news, Anita Sarkeesian, the founder of Feminist Frequency and creator of Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, is starting a new video series and a book co-written with Ebony Adams, about daring women in history. The book is slated for October, but you can already enjoy episodes of The FREQ Show on YouTube.
  • And, if you need an explainer on how we got here, this oldie-but-goodie from Time Magazine on How Trolls Are Ruining the Internet is a meaty analysis of online abuse.

#sofjo-poster 40% of people say they've experienced online harassment

 

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has launched the Safety of Female Journalists Online or #SOFJO to raise awareness of online violence and abuse. TrollBusters is working with OSCE to provide critical global knowledge and digital safety recommendations for journalists, policymakers and media management. This recent OSCE video explains the urgency of our work.

WOMEN IN LEADERSHIP

We’re Building Our Tribe!

Several luminaries will be joining our new advisory board as we strategize about how best to serve you: Elisa Lees Munoz, executive director of the International Women’s Media Foundation, Sandra Ordonez, head of communications and outreach for the Open Internet Tools Project at New America; Geneva Overholser, a senior fellow at the Democracy Fund and former board member for the Pulitzer Prizes; Alexandra Pascalidou, a Greek-Swedish journalist, human rights-activist, playwright and actress; Francine Hardaway, co-founder of Stealthmode Partners, a consultancy advising entrepreneurs; Harlo Holmes, director of Newsroom Digital Security at the Freedom of the Press Foundation; and Hannah Storm, director of the International News Safety Institute. A warm welcome to our new board members!

Alexandra Pascalidou
Alexandra Pascalidou

Harlo Holmes
Harlo Holmes

Geneva Overholser
Geneva Overholser

Elisa Lees Munoz
Elisa Lees Munoz

Sandra Ordonez
Sandra Ordonez

Hannah Storm
Hannah Storm

Francine Hardaway
Francine Hardaway

IN THE REPLAY

WATCH AS TROLLBUSTERS FOUNDER Dr. Michelle Ferrier shares how she came to create TrollBusters. [November 30, 2015]

Read This: TrollBusters Recommended Reading

Every month, we’ll bring you notable news coverage of online harassment and abuse.

How Did We Get Here?

Understand the scope and statistics around online harassment and abuse.

  • Amnesty International recently released a report on women’s experiences with online abuse. They polled 4,000 women across eight countries. Twenty-three percent of those surveyed reported experiencing online harassment. And the figures get worse from there. Explore the findings.
  • In Pakistan, the non-governmental organization DRF released a report, “Digital (In)Security of Journalists in Pakistan.” It shows that most journalists had experienced harassment in some form, which had in some cases led to self-censorship. Read the highlights.
  • And, if you need an explainer on how we got here, this oldie-but-goodie from Time Magazine on How Trolls Are Ruining the Internet is a meaty, if depressing analysis.

New Proposals Around the World

Solving online harassment is challenging, even for the well-intentioned. Here are some of the new ideas being proposed.

  • Pew Research Center recently asked Americans for their views on what constitutes online harassment. Read the results of the study. Or Vox breaks it down for you.
  • In Germany, a new law, the network enforcement law (NetzDG), has gone into full effect to fight online harassment. It has haters on all sides.
  • In Australia, the proposed Dolly’s Law, named after a 14-year-old who took her own life after being cyberbullied, would ban perpetrators from social media, or at least from contacting their victims online. The proposed law would work much like a domestic violence restraining order.
  • And in Nigeria, Hajiya Maryam Ado-Haruna is calling for measures to prevent Gender-Based Violence Online.

Celebrity Troll Busters

Celebrities are speaking out too.

  • Anita Sarkeesian, the founder of Feminist Frequency and creator of Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, is starting a new video series and a book co-written with Ebony Adams, about daring women in history. The book is slated for October, but you can already enjoy episodes of The FREQ Show on YouTube.
  • You may be surprised to hear sports stars get trolled too (or maybe not…Serena Williams?). Now, tennis player Madison Keys and America’s Cup winner Jimmy Spithill told CNN how they respond.

Worth a Listen

Finally, the Feminist Fridays podcast tackles the topic of online harassment.

A New Face and Focus for TrollBusters

Weekly News, Training & Resources

IN THE NEWS

Turns Out It’s Complicated

Solving online harassment is challenging, even for the well-intentioned.

  • Pew Research Center recently asked Americans for their views on what constitutes online harassmentRead the results of the study. Or Vox breaks it down for you.
  • In Germany, a new law, the network enforcement law (NetzDG), has gone into full effect to fight online harassment. It has haters on all sides.
  • You may be surprised to hear sports stars get trolled too (or maybe not…Serena Williams?). Now, tennis player Madison Keys and America’s Cup winner Jimmy Spithill told CNN how they respond.

TROLLBUSTERS IN THE NEWS

City Visions radio episode graphic
LISTEN AS TROLLBUSTERS FOUNDER Dr. Michelle Ferrier joins host Joseph Pace to discuss online violence and harassment and its effect on women and journalists. [January 22, 2018]

TAKE OUR SURVEY! TrollBusters in conjunction with the International Women’s Media Foundation is still soliciting your experiences as a journalist or writer. Take the survey.

ON THE WEB

TrollBusters Has a New Website!

TrollBusters is getting a fresh face, with the goal of focusing on what we do best — helping you to stay safe online and off. Take a look!

Trollbusters Website Mockup 1 Trollbusters website mockup 2

ON YOUR TO-DO LIST

Lock It Down

online protection rx header graphic

If you haven’t checked on the security of your personal information in awhile, take a moment to to safeguard against online abuse using TrollBusters’ digital hygiene course.

Then, check out these other great resources on the web.

  • Visit the Global Investigative Journalism Network for this guide, packed with tips and resources on digital security.
  • We also love the Journalist Security Guide from the Committee to Protect Journalists.
  • Also, spend some time with the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Surveillance Self-Defense project.

IN YOUR NEWSROOM

Does Your Newsroom Have a Plan?

We now offer training for newsrooms on how to prevent and respond to online harassment for journalists. TrollBusters offers in-person, hands-on workshops and webinars for journalists and management. Contact us to learn more.

Celebrating 3 Years Of Protecting Women Journalists Online!

TrollBusters Turns Three!

We’ve Built New Tools & New Partnerships

Last year, we saw renewed threats against journalists online, particularly here in the U.S. with the election of President Donald Trump. From anti-Semitic (((signalling))) to the discrediting of the media from the highest office in the land, U.S. journalists are under attack.

So we’ve been busy. TrollBusters delivered live training to more than 300 journalists last year, 80 percent of them women. We monitored more than 150 journalists to better identify and stop online abuse. Our founder worked with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on their #sofjo Safety of Female Journalists Online Campaign that launched in December 2017. Our Digital Hygiene Lessons and What to Do? Infographic on online threats were downloaded more than 3,000 times! 

This year, we’ll be developing even more online abuse protection and digital security resources to keep you and your voice online. With generous support from the Craig Newmark Philanthropies, TrollBusters is partnering with the International Women’s Media Foundation to launch a study of U.S. journalists and their work environment. Our goal: to create targeted interventions and help management develop strategies for dealing with online abuse.

Please participate in our survey using this survey link: http://bit.ly/usjournos

Online Threats Infographic Goes Global

Our popular What to Do? Where to Go? infographic on online abuse categorizes types of threats with links to what to do next to get relief. The infographic has been translated into Spanish and Hindi. We are working on one in Russian! If you are interested in partnering on a translation for your region or community, contact us at report@troll-busters.com.

Online Threats Infographic Spanish
The infographic guides journalists through online threats and possible responses to attacks. In translations, we work to insert locally appropriate partners and resources.

#ICYMI: In Case You Missed It

It was a busy year for TrollBusters and founder Dr. Michelle Ferrier. Among the recognitions:

Talks and Trainings

In 2017, Ferrier spoke about TrollBusters at SXSW, the United Nations, the National Association of Black Journalists, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Safety of Female Journalists Online, the West Virginia University Hack the Gender Gap on Artificial Intelligence and Newsgeist at Arizona State University, and was interviewed on the Dan Castricone radio show.

Dr. Ferrier also conducted webinars and trainings on online abuse for journalists for KQED, Poynter Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media, the Kiplinger Fellows Program, to student journalists and to university classes nationwide.

Would you like to invite Dr. Michelle Ferrier to speak at your event or gathering? Reach out.

Michelle Ferrier is pictured speaking at European Commission
Dr. Michelle Ferrier shares stories of online harassment of journalists both before and after the United States presidential election. The European Commission met in Brussels, Belgium on November 17-18, 2016.