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.
Twitter is tweaking its algorithms to weed out more online abuse. Chief exec Jack Dorsey explains to The Guardian that “The spirit of the thing is that we want to take the burden off the person receiving abuse or mob-like behavior.
A new report suggestsmore governments are using trolls, bots and others to distribute propaganda, alter public opinion, distort the facts and crack down on opposition.
Is a university responsible for protecting its students from online harassment through a third-party app? A court weighs the issue.
Psychology Todaylooks at the psychological toll of cyberstalking.
The International Association of Women in Radio and Television summarizes two weeks of panels and workshops on #onlineharassment at the #CSW62 in New York this March.
BBC Woman’s Hour has started a series, Takeback ConTroll, covering stories of women who have experienced online abuse.
#RightsCon in Toronto
RightsCon is happening now in Toronto, a conference about human rights in a digital age. Follow the hashtag #RightsCon to see discussion about algorithms, bots, identity and human rights. On Thursday, May 17, Dr. Michelle Ferrier, founder of TrollBusters.com, will be speaking at “Take Back the Net: Innovations in Tackling Online Hate and Harassment.”
The conversation will focus on the global aspects of online harassment, particularly for journalists and other thought leaders. As the internet and social media become increasingly essential to our lives and careers, online hate speech and harassment remain rampant, with evidence that they’re having a chilling effect in our online communities. With tech companies unable to effectively meet the needs of each individual targeted by hate on the internet, innovative intermediary groups have risen up, employing a diverse array of effective tactics to combat hate, silence harassers, and give power back to internet users themselves. This panel discussion will feature the ingenious innovators who have stepped in to offer solutions to an endemic problem that tech companies are still struggling to solve, offering a ray of hope that our online communities might one day become safer and more inclusive for all.
Should Students Consider Pseudonyms?
Student journalists are under attack by trolls seeking to derail them from their journalism careers. Gershon Harrell of Kent State University, looks at the issue and talks with Dr. Michelle Ferrier about why she advocates pseudonyms for women journalists in the face of online hate.
LISTEN as WVXU’s Mark Heyne talks with TrollBusters founder Michelle Ferrier about her work in fighting online harassment. [May 2016]
ON YOUR TO-DO LIST
Secure Your Digital Property
Our 16-lesson Digital Hygiene Course offers quick tips to help you protect your digital presence. This week, take these steps:
Freelancers need protection too, writes Elisabet Cantenys in Open Society Foundations. Freelancers are especially vulnerable as their next job depends on their reputation…EVERY…SINGLE…TIME.
Justin Trudeau and a host of Canadian leaders call out social media platforms to discuss the online harassment experiences of women leaders, particularly’s Alberta Premier @RachelNotley who has received death threats via social media.
Groundviews is running a long-form series on online harassment and its chilling effect on women in politics.
The student government president at American University is suing Andrew Anglin of neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer for coordinating a troll storm against her on social media, The Washington Post reports.
Next week, founder of TrollBusters Michelle Ferrier will speak on a panel at RightsCon Toronto. The “Take Back the Net: Innovations in Tackling Online Hate and Harassment” session will highlight organizations battling the chilling effect online harassment has on journalists, women, people of color and others. The panelists will discuss efforts to solve online abuse, even as tech companies struggle to find solutions. Check out all the themes of RightsCon Toronto from May 16-18.
WATCH as founder of TrollBusters Michelle Ferrier speaks on a panel at CUNY J-School’s Social Media Weekend about supporting journalists in the face of online harassment. [June, 2016]
World Press Freedom Day | May 3, 2018
According to the United Nations, World Press Freedom Day is a day to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom, assess the state of press freedom throughout the world, defend the media from attacks on their independence and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in their line of duty. #WPFD, on May 3, 2018 inspired and informed us. Here are our top ten tweets from this year’s campaigns for safety and freedom of expression.
Above:@ThisIsAfricaTIA tweeted 10 things to know about World Press Freedom Day. Number 3 on their list: Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights states that everyone “has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to see, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
And below, our nine favorite tweets of #WPFD that help describe the deadly issues of press freedoms and the new states of media oppression growing in the United States and around the globe. We especially call out the work of Nighat Dad and Digital Rights Pakistan in providing safety for women journalists.
ON YOUR TO-DO LIST
Here’s What You Can Do
What can you do today to make yourself safer online and off? Clean up your digital footprint with our 16-lesson Digital Hygiene Course.
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.”
She had to copyright her breasts to fight revenge porn, but #shepersisted. This month, represented by The Cyber Civil Rights Legal Project, an unnamed woman won her lawsuit against an ex who was spreading her naked pics online. She was awarded $6.45 million.
What we’re watching: The attorney for MSNBC host Joy Ann Reid (@joyannreid) says Reid’s decades-old The Reid Report was hacked to insert homophobic slurs into old blog posts. The embattled TV journalist is currently fighting for her reputation and has taken her case to the FBI.
The highly anticipated independent film Netizens debuted last weekend at the Tribeca Film Festival. The film highlights three women’s experiences with online harassment and abuse. Go to the film’s website to request a screening for your organization.
Journalists, it’s unethical to ignore your online security, says this op-ed on Poynter.
And Salon offers this piece on How the U.S. Became Troll Nation.
This new study, by assistant professor Gina Masullo Chen, at the University of Texas, along with Paromito Pain and Victoria Y. Chen, looked at how online harassment affects female journalists in multiple countries.
A bipartisan bill in Michigan could make cyberbullying a felony if it includes a continuous pattern of harassment that leads to serious injury or suicide.
Trolling the News: Protecting Journalists from Online Harassment
If you’re in the D.C. metro, don’t miss this event from The National Press Club and PEN America. TrolllBusters founder Dr. Michelle Ferrier is part of the discussion, alongside Soraya Chemaly of the Women’s Media Center, Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post and other journalists.
WATCH as TrollBusters founder Michelle Ferrier speaks as part of the Safety of Female Journalists Online project for The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media. [February, 2018]
ON YOUR TO-DO LIST
Online Harassment Field Manual
Our friends at PEN America have put together this handy “digital field manual” for writers and their employers, to help them prepare for and combat online abuse. The section on legal considerations is particularly useful in knowing how to document incidents.
In other resources:
Feminist Frequency has this guide to protecting yourself from online harassment. It comes in Arabic, English and Spanish.
And check out this list of victim resources, from the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative.
Predating #MeToo movement, this Wall Street Journal article describes the long-term effects of online abuse after Whitney Wolfe Herd took on Silicon Valley and Tinder.
Abortion fundraisers are suing several entities they say were behind a “multipronged cyberattack,” which hacked their websites, stole donors’ identity and banking information, instigated a DDOS attack on their website and subjected them to harassment from extremists. They are alleging violation of The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act as well as the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act.
Cyberbullying is now punishable with jail time and/or a fine in West Virginia thanks to the passage of Grace’s Law, which goes into effect in June.
And PBS NewsHour recently asked “Is the U.S. Doing Enough to Fight Russia’s Troll Factory?”
Get Just-in-Time Support
Our Artificial Intelligence Chatbot is Jane On-The-Spot
From our website at http://www.troll-busters.com or from our Facebook page, our AI-powered chatbot will give you immediate coaching on what to do next in an online attack. We’ll lead you through a series of questions to direct you to just what to do when you’re under attack.
WATCH TrollBusters founder Michelle Ferrier speaks on a panel for The International Association of Women in Radio & Television, “#MeTooOnline: Workshopping Solutions to Counter Cyber Violence Against Women.” [MARCH 2018]
ON YOUR TO-DO LIST
Lock It Down!
What are you doing to protect yourself from hackers, trolls, and corporate and government surveillance?
These resources will help guide your efforts.
The Center for Investigative Journalism offers this handbook on information security for journalists.
Digital rights technologist Gem Barrett goes through tactics and tech tools for fighting online harassment in this post on Medium.
50 different Twitter threats an hour. One woman journalist was overwhelmed at the threatening tweets coming at her from different users. Combatting the online activity quickly took over her work plan for the day. She turned to TrollBusters for help.
TrollBusters new chatbot, linked on www.troll-busters.com’s Chat and on our Facebook page message button, helps direct journalists to immediate resources to combat online abuse. The bot responds to users answers about the type of abuse they are experiencing and provides technical, psychological and platform-specific strategies for counteracting attacks.
Much of TrollBusters’ work has been about addressing just-in-time interventions to diminish the effects of online abuse. While women in general experience misogynistic attacks online, women journalists face a different dynamic because they are targeted as “public figures” and as women. Organized attacks, by anonymous smart mobs, or swarm activity by a frenzied, viral tweet, online abuse can quickly devolve with immediate, long-term impact on a journalist and her work.
“We’ve learned from our work with women journalists that this abuse can be fast and furious,” TrollBusters founder Dr. Michelle Ferrier said. “Our interventions are designed to quickly monitor and address troll activity so that we diminish the duration and frequency of attacks.”
TrollBusters worked with Lisa Williams to design the beta chatbot using the TARS platform. Williams describes the development process in a series of posts on GitHub. The bot is designed after TrollBusters’ popular infographic, “Online Abuse: What to Do? Where to Go?” that provides a threat analysis and resources to combat attacks. The infographic is available in English, Spanish, Hindi, Russian, and Turkish. The TrollBusters chatbot is available in English.
The Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas-Austin surveyed 75 women journalists about their experiences with online abuse. They confirm what we know…daily nastiness on the web is part of the job.
Mosaic offers this interesting read (which was also picked up by CNN, Daily Mail and others) on how social media “amplifies the personal rewards of expressing outrage” and can make ordinary people mean.
Professors (and their families) are growing targets on online abuse, NPR reports.
At an Internews roundtable, Kenyan journalists said they were struggling both with overt threats and attacks where their own lives were in danger, and also with coping with the trauma that comes when “bearing witness to human suffering.” They said their media outlets had done little to assist with the impact of such traumatic experiences on their mental health.
Listen to this 3-minute segment on TrollBusters and the #MeToo movement and why Dr. Michelle Ferrier, founder of TrollBusters, feels there’s a privilege to being able to speak out and there are many silenced stories that the #MeToo movement has left behind.
“For many, redress for these attacks are out of reach. It can be upwards of $50,000-$100,000 to bring a case to court to have your story be heard. Who has that kind of discretionary income?”
Share Your Social Media Policy With Us!
We believe that when media organizations require reporters to use their personal handles to promote their journalistic work, they also bear some responsibility for helping their reporters cope with or protect themselves against online harassment. We’re collecting social media policies from media outlets, and we’d love it if you would send us yours. We’re particularly interested in what personal information reporters must make public, how they are coached to respond to online harassment, and what resources, if any, are in place to assist. You can send policies to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recommendations for Media Managers
Concerned about online harassment of journalists in your newsroom? The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)’s Representative on Freedom of the Media, with the help of TrollBusters, compiled a report on online abuse of female journalists. It offers concrete steps management can take to protect its reporters. Read our recap of the report’s recommendations.
ON YOUR TO-DO LIST
Resources to Keep You Safe
This week, check out these great resources on the web.
Written by longtime war correspondent Abeer Saady, the International Association of Women in Radio & Television’s “What If?…Safety Handbook for Women Journalists,” is a must-read. It includes a chapter on digital safety. Learn more about IAWRT’s safety guide.
Troll-Busters.com hosted a 2-½ hour session to create strategies for supporting women journalists online at Internet Freedom Forum. Attendees produced a gap analysis matrix of online threats and journalists and the organizations fighting to protect them.
The Committee to Protect Journalists spoke to a dozen sources for this report on the dangers journalists (and their families) face offline when they report on white supremacists, often without digital security support.
Yes! We can feel it…Female politicians in Scotlandcall on Twitter to curtail attacks on women.
And Fast Company has two rich reads for you: their cover story, “DId We Create This Monster? How Twitter Turned Toxic” and “19 Ways Twitter Can Make Itself Safer Right Now.” The first looked at how the company’s ethos of free speech enabled trolls to thrive on the platform (with some help from lack of internal clarity and insufficient resources to combat trolls and bots). The second presented experts’ suggestions on pragmatic actions Twitter could take to reduce the degree to which it facilitates abuse.
The Michigan House moves to criminalize cyberbullying. Will the Michigan Senate take up the bill? A close look at the legislation.
POLL: Does your newsroom have a policy to deal with online harassment of reporters?
TROLLBUSTERS IN THE NEWS
WATCH this ONA keynote featuring Michelle Ferrier and others. [September, 2015]
ON YOUR TO-DO LIST
Stay Safe Online
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.
This free MOOC on edX will teach you to “think like a hacker but behave as a security expert.”
Or, check out VAWnet, an online library of resources on gender-based violence.