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Published: October 16, 2017 Author: Staff reports

The International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) has just received a grant from the Craig Newmark Foundation to conduct research in the United States on online harassment of women journalists.

Ohio University Associate Professor of Journalism Dr. Michelle Ferrier, founder of TrollBusters, will be the principal investigator on the project, while Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (FM3) of California will provide survey support.

The research will enable the community to better understand the breadth and depth of how online trolling impacts female journalists – abuse that is almost always violent or sexualized in nature when directed at women – and aimed at silencing and censoring them.

A Demos think tank survey from 2014 of harassment on Twitter found that female journalists receiving roughly three times as much abuse as their male counterparts. Meanwhile, the IWMF’s 2014 report “Violence and Harassment against Women in the News Media; A Global Picture,” revealed that two-thirds of those surveyed experienced acts of intimidation, threats and abuse, in person or online.

“The numbers are difficult to pin down, but this is one of the most pernicious problems facing women journalists today,” said Elisa Lees Muñoz, Executive Director of the IWMF. “We are regularly hearing anecdotes and testimonials of American women journalists experiencing a surge in online harassment.

The data collected through this study will enable us to truly understand the size and scope of the problem, which is essential to mounting an effective response and supporting female journalists who live with this threat.” It is widely believed that many women do not speak up about online abuse due to fears of being ignored or that it will escalate the problem.

Ferrier has been conducting interviews with women journalists since the election to find the ways in which they build resilience following online harassment. She was honored in 2017 with the South by Southwest (SXSW) Community Service Award for the just-in-time rescue work of Troll-Busters.com and its online protection awareness, support and educational materials.

Ferrier, who launched her social venture two years ago, says the project will help inform international strategies.

“We need research that illuminates the significant emotional and work stresses that online harassment places on journalists who are targets,” Ferrier said. “And that the effects on the individual and the free press have global consequences.”

The IWMF plans to release the research report in Summer 2018.

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