Q&A With Trollbusters’ Founder, Michelle Ferrier

What is Trollbusters?
TrollBusters is a just-in-time rescue service for women writers and journalists who are experiencing online harassment. We send positive messaging and just-in-time education to keep targets safe online and off. See Pinterest boards for examples of visual memes we use, such as online protection tips and “I <3 Trollbusters” memes.

What was the genesis of this idea? Why and how did you get started?
TrollBusters was born at a hackathon in January 2015 for women news entrepreneurs. The idea was to counter the Gamergate-type attacks we were seeing on Twitter at the time. We also wanted to test whether positive messaging directed at the target would help these women stay online in the face of a persistent attack by trolls. I am also a target from my days as a newspaper columnist and was channeling my own experience to develop TrollBusters.

Why specifically women authors? Doesn’t everyone encounter trolls?
Anyone can be affected by online harassment. What we see are the most vile, consistent attacks on women journalists because of their gender or ethnicity—and because they have an opinion or a platform to publish. Women, Action, & the Media (WAM!) released Reporting, Reviewing, and Responding to Harassment on Twitter with some illuminating statistics about online harassment.

What kinds of incidents have been reported? What trends, if any, are you seeing?
We are seeing more women come forward and report these activities rather than just blocking the user(s). Users are frustrated that platforms like Twitter are not responsive to their needs. We also need better data to advocate for better policies and police education on how to handle these crimes.

What advice would you give to nonprofit organizations when they encounter negative online interactions? 
Strong moderation is always required when you have online platforms. When they encounter online harassment, the moderator needs to provide a warning to the offender that what they have done is against the terms and conditions. That means that there should be rules for posting on sites and consequences for those who violate the rules.

Do you feel managers of online media environments have any responsibility to moderate those environments for their communities? If so, what responsibilities?
Managers MUST take responsibility for the type of speech promoted on their platforms. You cannot abdicate responsibility for moderating a civil space to technology or to the platform provider. We as managers must be clear about the role of comments/dialogue and have specific strategies on how the site deals with violations.

What are next steps for Trollbusters?
TrollBusters is building out our monitoring system to be more proactive in finding targets and providing assistance to them. We are also continuing to test our basic premise that positive messaging helps women persist online in the face of these attacks.

Michelle Ferrier
Michelle Ferrier is the founder of Troll-Busters.com, a just-in-time rescue service for women journalists who are targets of online harassment. Ferrier experienced harassment as a former columnist with a Florida newspaper and as a developer of online communities for commercial and nonprofit organizations. She is the associate dean for innovation at the Scripps College of Communication at Ohio University and the president of Journalism That Matters, a nonprofit organization that hosts breakthrough conversations on the emerging media landscape. She holds a Ph.D. in Texts and Technology from the University of Central Florida, a master’s in journalism from the University of Memphis with research interests in digital identity and reputation management, online communities, hyperlocal online news and media entrepreneurship.