Illustration by Hana Shafi

Illustration by Hana Shafi

In this episode, we take a look at two online services that are part of a global movement revolutionizing anti-harassment technology. Who are the founders joining forces with? That’s right, the good people: that often-forgotten faction on the Internet. I first spoke to Emily May, the co-founder of HeartMob. Dr. Michelle Ferrier, the founder of TrollBusters, joined me after.

 Emily May, co-founder of HeartMob. Photo courtesy of Google Images.

Emily May, co-founder of HeartMob. Photo courtesy of Google Images.

Twitter has teamed up with advocacy groups to form a Trust & Safety Council, one of the platform’s many recent initiatives to curb cyber abuse.

There are over 40 organizations signed up to the council, including iHollaback, a decade-old organization that supports women and LGBTQ people facing street harassment. Emily May, the organization’s founder and executive director, is an international leader in the anti-harassment movement.

Her latest project, HeartMob, is a new online platform to report harassment, provide bystander support, and build online communities. The groundwork for HeartMob lies in some of the organizational roots from her first grassroots initiative. “When we look at public spaces as broader than just the streets or the subway, and to the Internet or the media, that’s when we can start to dig into doing some of this work,” says May.

When we look at public spaces as broader than just the streets or the subway, and to the Internet or the media, that’s when we can start to dig into doing some of this work.

Patricia Cartes, Twitter’s Head of Global Policy Outreach, wrote in a blog that the diversity of voices now joining the conversation is a step towards a more inclusive and “multi-layered” approach in the fight against online harassment.

HeartMob is designed to fill in the gaps left by these giant corporate infrastructures,” says May. “We want to create interventions that are filled with transformations inspired by the world that we want to live in, and not inspired by the world in which we do.”

I spoke to Emily about fostering community-driven support online and how this can mobilize people to share their own experiences.

You can read a condensed and edited version of our interview here.


“I think our media organizations have been naïve to the types of problems that women have been dealing with for years,” says Michelle Ferrier, the founder and creator of TrollBusters, a just-in-time rescue service for women writers and journalists.

 Michelle Ferrier, founder of TrollBusters. Photo courtesy of Google Images.

Michelle Ferrier, founder of TrollBusters. Photo courtesy of Google Images.

TrollBusters was introduced at the International Women’s Media Foundation Hackathon in New York City last year.

In January 2016, Intel, Vox Media, Re/code and Lady Gaga's Born This Way Foundation launched #HackHarrassment, a tech-driven initiative to fight online harassment. Through a series of hackathons, the companies hope the tech community will gain a more acute understanding of harassment in all its forms.

In a harrowing narrative of her own experience with harassment, Ferrier was forced to quit her job at Florida’s Daytona Beach News-Journal. Years of racist hate mail by an anonymous letter-writer escalated to the point where she began to wear wigs and disguise herself in public.

“I never talked about the letters in my columns, fearing that to mention the horrible threats might cause them to escalate,” she wrote in Attacks on the Press: 2016 Edition.

“Online trolls have used social media to swarm women journalists and thought leaders, damaging our identities, our digital reputations, and our ability to make a living.”

Now a journalism educator, Ferrier and her students at Ohio University used their $3,000 in Google prize money as well as $35,000 from the Knight Foundation to develop the online service, which she describes as “a counter-speech initiative.” TrollBusters, which mainly operates on Twitter, jumps into the stream of hate by sending positive messages to the target.

I spoke to Michelle about the inspiration behind her work, and the changes she hopes to see in the media industry.

You can read a condensed and edited version of our interview here.