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Dean Ferrier Schools Next Gen Journalists on Online Abuse

Dr. Michelle Ferrier

By Staff Reporter

It was the Justin Bieber quiz that stumped them. The 120 high school students answers to the celebrity’s behavior were all over the board in response to the question “Which one is the lie about Justin Bieber?”

  1. He used to live in Britney Spears’ former house.
  2. His hair sold on eBay for $40,000.
  3. He stores his GRAMMY in his sock drawer for “safe keeping.”

But what the students didn’t notice on the BuzzFeed quizzes were two banner ads…and that “playing the game” was used by media companies to garner their attention and monetize it for profit.

Ferrier was the keynote speaker at the University of Florida Summer Media Institute on Tuesday, June 25, where high school students in Gainesville from around Florida gathered to get hands-on experience with educators and professionals about how to do journalism in a social media age.

In her workshop, “Navigating Online Spaces as a Journalist and Communicator,” Ferrier explained the growing conversation spaces on social media, sharing how “digital deposits” like quiz responses, status updates, tweets and other digital artifacts are used to create a digital identity that can be compromised as a journalist or communicator.

Students discussed their use of a variety of media platforms, from Facebook to Twitter, with even some still mourning the loss of Vine and their adoption of the new platform TikTok. Ferrier shared how their use of lifestreaming technologies is part of a larger conversation space that has opened up social sharing, while also creating privacy concerns.

“Particularly for women and people of color, the Internet can be a nasty place,” said Ferrier. “Women journalists are attacked in different ways than male journalists and often have to deal with very personal attacks that are designed to intimidate, sow fear and degrade a journalist’s reputation.”

Ferrier dove into the current political environment and how social platforms have spawned online attacks that compromise the safety and work of journalists. Students shared stories of viewing online abuse and harassment, and learned how details of their identity can be used to compromise their physical safety.

Ferrier shared an example close to the experience of many of the students – the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in February 2018 in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 dead. In the aftermath of the shooting, one female reporter was the focus of a concerted smear campaign online.

“The dark web served up an imposter tweet that kept the reporter responding to online threats for nearly a week,” Ferrier said. “Ultimately, it derailed her from doing her job reporting on the horrific events that were unfolding.”

Ferrier concluded the workshop with 10 tips for students to reduce their risk and online damage from online harassment:

  1. Search your name in Google or other search browsers. See where you rank. See who else’s identity may pose trouble for you. Set up Google Alerts for mentions of your name as they occur.
  2. Create separate private and professional social accounts.
  3. Use gender-neutral or pen names to build your reputation online.
  4. Buy your own domain name around your identity.
  5. Build your professional digital presence while still in college.
  6. Join professional conversations and grow your professional network using Twitter Lists, Facebook groups of colleagues and allies.
  7. Learn digital hygiene tips for protecting accounts, passwords.
  8. Opt-out of third-party aggregators like Spokeo to erase location and identity data.
  9. Don’t disclose your physical location using check-ins, geotags and other visual cues.
  10. Report #onlineabuse to media advisors, media management, and

And BTW, Bieber doesn’t keep his Grammy in his sock drawer, silly! It’s in the refrigerator (#fakenews;-).