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Scripps College administrator developing app to battle online trolls

As seen in Compass:

Scripps College administrator developing app to battle online trolls
Apr 9, 2015
By McKenzie Powell

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he idea is to really fight hate with love.”

That’s how Michelle Ferrier, associate dean for innovation at Ohio University’s Scripps College of Communication, describes an online tool she is developing to combat a growing problem for women news journalists and entrepreneurs in particular – cyberharassment.

A former newspaper columnist, Ferrier knows firsthand what it’s like to receive hate mail, having been the recipient of threatening letters aimed at her race and her gender. Ferrier has watched as the anonymous hate letters have evolved and worsened in the digital age – an age where social media outlets provide public, and in some cases anonymous, forums in which individuals launch misogynistic, racist and other hate-filled messages at those in the media.

Trolling is a hot topic in the media industry these days. Generally a reference to online user behavior meant to intentionally anger or frustrate someone in order to provoke a response, trolling has evolved into verbal lashings tantamount to cyberbullying that is increasingly aimed at female journalists. In fact, it was the recent Gamergate controversy that prompted Ferrier to take action against the organized campaign of misogynistic online harassment that included threats of rape and death leveraged against women who wrote about sexism in the video game industry.

“It’s really chilling to have this kind of attack happen to you as a woman,” Ferrier said, drawing upon her own experiences with harassment as well as those experienced by the women targeted in Gamergate.

Those experiences motivated Ferrier to develop a product designed to prevent trolling while at the same time supporting women who are subjected to such online hate – all as a means of protecting the voices of women in the field of communication.

The idea for TrollBusters was crafted by Ferrier and further developed by Ferrier and a team of female media entrepreneurs at the Cracking the Code hackathon, hosted in January by the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) and the Ford Foundation.

Using proprietary technology for network analysis developed by Ohio University students who won last year’s Scripps Innovation Challenge, TrollBusters locates and identifies those engaging in cyberharassment. At the same time, this digital tool facilitates real-time counterattacks through a network of online community support.

According to Ferrier, those under attack by trolls often feel as if there is no escape from the hate and no one to support them. In developing TrollBusters, Ferrier set out to not only combat online bullies but also to create an S.O.S. team that will send positive messages of support as well as endorsements to those under attack as a means of counteracting the negative messages and protecting the victim’s reputation.

“We can tell those under attack how important it is for them to maintain their voice online while also showing them how to continue to be safe in expressing their opinions,” Ferrier explained.

Ferrier is developing TrollBusters with the professional help and support of two other women: Louisa Reynolds, a freelance journalist based in Central America; and Shireen Mitchell, director of web and interactive media at the Women’s Media Center.

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