In response to the growing problem of online harassment and abuse targeting women journalists and other public figures in Africa, Code for Africa (CfA), the continent’s largest network of digital democracy labs, has partnered with Google’s Jigsaw to launch FeedShield, an online toolkit to document abuse and unmask trolls.
FeedShield uses AI-driven machine learning tools to collect evidence of online attacks and helps users package the evidence in a dossier to report the abuse for remedial action.
In addition to reporting the abuse to social media platforms and watchdogs, users can request CfA’s forensic investigation team to assist in tracing and unmasking the trolls behind the abuse and to verify whether the attacks were part of a coordinated campaign.
Built on Jigsaw’s open-source Harassment Manager toolkit, FeedShield also enables users to unfollow, mute, and block toxic content.
Code for Africa’s (CfA) forensic team, located at the iLAB, will now also support FeedShield users who want to trace the trolls who are abusing them and understand whether the attacks were part of an organized intimidation campaign.
The ally network for FeedShield includes a counseling hotline to help users deal with the emotional trauma caused by harassment, partnerships with anti-harassment and digital security advocacy groups, and a network of FeedShield fellows who will research how online harassment is used to distort public discourse and how Africans are fighting back.
The platform itself will include tipsheets and other resources to help users deal with harassment.
CfA will coordinate the rollout of FeedShield with a similar global campaign by the Thomson Reuters Foundation that also uses Jigsaw’s technology to help journalists analyze and combat online abuse.
CfA and the Thomson Reuters Foundation will coordinate training and newsroom support initiatives in Africa and will jointly develop localized resources for the tools.
Jigsaw’s Harassment Manager technology, which was used to create FeedShield, was developed and refined over several years through a cross-industry collaboration with partners including Article 19, the European Women’s Lobby, Feminist Internet, Glitch, the International Center for Journalists, Online SOS, Paradigm Initiative, PEN America, and Right To Be (formerly Hollaback!).
Code for Africa (CfA) assisted PEN America in customizing and translating its Online Harassment Field Manual for use in francophone West Africa.
FeedShield will initially be available for use on Twitter, with other social media platforms being added as data becomes available. Code for Africa’s (CfA) initial launch will focus on Anglophone Africa and will expand to offer support to users elsewhere in Africa from January.
Arabic and francophone versions of the tool will be available in 2023.
Alongside the tool and its online resources, CfA will offer online training and/or mentorship to anyone who wants to learn how to better manage their digital security or respond to trolls.
CfA will also offer in-person workshops and access to a suite of digital security tools, including Jigsaw’s Outline VPN and Project Shield, to newsrooms and CSOs to protect against surveillance and DDoS attacks.