Tool to help shut down online trolling of women journalists takes top prize at New York hack-a-thon competition
Michelle Ferrier, associate dean for innovation at the Scripps College of Communication at Ohio University, and her team took a top prize this week for a digital tool they say will help shut down online harassment of women.
The tool, TrollBusters, was spurred by Gamergate, in which misogynistic attacks were waged last year against women in the gaming industry, Ferrier said. She wants to use the tool to specifically prevent online trolling of women journalists.
“Online harassment is growing by 40 percent. We found that women publishers experience cyberbullying on their sites in their comments sections, and some women have even had their sites shut down by online trolls,” Ferrier said Friday evening at a hack-a-thon where women entrepreneurs competed to win $10,000 in prize money from Google.
Hosted by the Ford and the International Women’s Media foundations, the hack-a-thon was part of a series of events that took place in New York this week as part of a global summit on women entrepreneurs, funders, technologists, scholars and other media professionals at the forefront of digital news. (I participated in the hack-a-thon too with a product called Impala. I did not win one of the prizes, but I had loads of fun. I also spoke at the summit and will be writing more about it in coming days).
TrollBusters will use proprietary audience targeting software, designed by a team at Ferrier’s university, to identify communities of trolls around any given issue using natural language processing. The service will counter cyberattacks in real- time with online community support and positive messaging, Ferrier said in her pitch. You can learn more about the service here.
Besides Ferrier, Team TrollBusters includes Sneha Inguva, co-founder of Perooz, a browser extension that enables experts to objectively refute false claims in news reports in real time; Debbie Galant, director of NJ News Commons, an effort to support and unite news organizations throughout New Jersey; Berta Valle, general manager of Vos TV in Nicaragua; and Louisa Reynolds, a freelance journalist and translator based in Guatemala. Reynolds is also the current Elizabeth Neuffer Fellow at the International Women’s Media Foundation.
TrollBusters team members will split their portion – $3,000.00 – in Google prize money.
In additional to the money, Ferrier said her team has already received a verbal commitment from the International Women’s Media Foundation for additional support to help launch TrollBusters.
Nine teams competed in the hack-a-thon, with three teams taking top prizes and a fourth receiving an honorable mention. The panel of judges praised Team TrollBusters for its presentation and said their product addresses a very topical and serious problem. Judges included Chrys Wu, a developer advocate for The New York Times, Lisa Stone, founder of BlogHer and Jeremy Caplan, Director of Education for the Tow-Knight Center for Journalism Innovation at City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism, among others.
The two other top winners were: PitchCoach, a mobile app that will help female digital media entrepreneurs perfect their pitch for startup ideas, and The Gender Report, a website designed to reveal sexism in media production and consumption. LaunchMeet, a service that matches media entrepreneurs with skilled coders and other professional service providers, received $1,000 and an honorable mention.