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Sunday, May 28, 2017

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Michelle Ferrier

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Scripps administrator receives Knight Prototype Fund grant for anti-cyberbullying service


The next six months will be busy for Michelle Ferrier. The Scripps College of Communication associate dean for innovation recently received news her anti-cyberbullying online and mobile service, TrollBusters, was named one of 20 projects to be granted funding from the Knight Prototype Fund.

The fund, under the umbrella of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, awards select project managers with $35,000 and then gives them six months to develop their ideas into demo products. As part of the award, recipients also receive support, including training, from a data science team at Impact Lab. At the end of six months, the recipients gather and share their experiences and outcomes.

The TrollBusters submission was not Ferrier’s first try at a Knight Prototype Fund award. She said she had put forward a few ideas over the years, including one that was a finalist in the program a couple of months ago. Ultimately, those ideas did not receive the funding, but Ferrier says she sees now it was leading up to the TrollBusters success.

“I understood better what the Knight Foundation was looking for and what the world needed. Those two things came together in TrollBusters, which is the reason we’re getting so much visibility and attention. This is something that is so desperately needed,” Ferrier said.

The news reached Ferrier as she was preparing to participate on a panel about TrollBusters as part of World Press Freedom Day 2015 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. The discussion, titled “Let Journalism Thrive! Towards Better Reporting, Gender Equality, & Media Safety in the Digital Age,” touches on a topic close to Ferrier’s heart.

Ferrier, who was a columnist for a number of years with a daily newspaper in Florida, was the victim of hate mail, including death threats. Those experiences strengthened her interest in ending hate both online and off and joining forces with others to do so. The issue of cyberbullying, she says, is widespread.

“This year they [the United Nations] decided that the focus was going to be on these press threats and specifically looking at how in particular women journalists are affected online and offline in being able to do their work. This is not just here in the U.S., it’s all over the world,” Ferrier said.

While in New York this past Thursday and Friday, Ferrier multitasked during her trip by meeting with a developer to discuss the design work needed for the TrollBusters prototype. With just six months until it’s time to present a demo, every day counts.

But aside from the deadline of the Knight Prototype Fund project, Ferrier says she feels an urgency to get her idea up and running for the individuals who are suffering from cyberbullying and online harassment. She says having the Knight Foundation pick TrollBusters as an investment in media innovation and entrepreneurship speaks volumes to the issues at hand.

“They pick the projects they think can make a difference,” she says.