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Journalism professor speaks at United Nations on online abuse of women journalists

Nov 3, 2017

Photos provided.

Journalism professor speaks at United Nations on online abuse of women journalists

ATHENS, Ohio (Nov. 3, 2017)—Speaking before the member state and nongovernmental organization representatives at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City yesterday, Dr. Michelle Ferrier, associate professor in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism and founder of TrollBusters, urged the representatives to create coordinated, global and local strategies to address violence against women journalists.

Ferrier was a panelist at the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, alongside representatives from Reporters Without Borders, Article 19, and others. In her work with TrollBusters (www.troll-busters.com), a service that provides just-in-time monitoring and rescue services for women journalists experiencing online harassment, Ferrier has researched the dynamics of online abuse and its effects on the individual journalists and their work.

From 2006-2016, 930 journalists were killed around the world. Only 10 percent of those murder cases have been resolved, according to the UNESCO’s forthcoming ‘World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development: 2017/18 Global Report.’

“Our work as journalists requires us to engage on social media platforms and that has extended the reach of our work globally,” Ferrier said, “but it also has opened journalists to persistent, coordinated attacks on Twitter and Facebook.”

“These same social media channels are used to stalk, discredit and threaten women journalists with rape, with death, with the release of personal information designed to instill fear, intimidation and ultimately silence their voices from the media.”

Ferrier said online harassment crosses professional boundaries and affects the personal lives of these women. The Committee to Protect Journalists estimates that 40 percent of murder victims reported receiving threats before they were killed.

Ferrier was a target of hate speech and online abuse as a journalist and columnist more than 10 years ago. She left her job as a journalist and moved her family as a result of the threats she received. Ferrier details her experience and the motivations behind the creation of TrollBusters in 2015 in “Progression of Hate,” a book chapter in the 2016 Attacks on the Press, published by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Here in the United States, American journalists are increasingly finding themselves at risk. Since the presidential election in November 2016, Ferrier says journalists in the United States have been painted as an enemy of the state.

“We’ve seen an increase in online and physical attacks as a result of the divisive rhetoric and fake news labels that have been cast upon us,” she said.

Besides the personal, emotional, and psychological harm done to these women journalists, Ferrier said she finds the news enterprise suffers as well. Women journalists report self-censoring – choosing assignments and topics that won’t draw online fire from harassers and abusers.

“The online abuse has damaging consequences to speaking truth to power. Online abuse is the harbinger of violence to come.”

-From faculty reports