An online toolkit has been launched to unmask trolls and flag online harassment following increased attacks against women journalists and other public figures in the continent.
The tool dubbed “FieldShield” will be using Artificial Intelligence machine learning tools to collect evidence of online attacks that will then be packaged in a dossier to report the abuse to the social media in use for remedial action.
The kit launched by data journalism Lab-Code for Africa (CfA) in partnership with Jigsaw, a team from Google that works to addresses online safety concerns will also enable victims request for forensic investigation’s assistance in tracing and revealing the trolls behind the abuse and verify whether the attacks were part of a coordinated campaign.
CfA chief executive Mr Justin Arenstein said FeedShield is not just a piece of technology but also a network of human allies to support women being targeted by trolls.
The network of allies includes a counseling hotline to help users deal with the emotional trauma caused by online harassment and access to digital security advocacy groups.
"Misogynistic trolls try to intimidate, overwhelm or distract women opinion-setters. That’s why FeedShield is intended to give users actionable information, fast, so they can reclaim their voice and take back control of their social media feeds,” he said.
FeedShield users will also access support from CfA’s forensic team at the ILAB which has been helping civil watchdogs unmask coordinated networks of disinformation conspiracists and extremists for its partners at the United Nations and local investigative media.
TRFilter, a free app made by the Thomson Reuters Foundation for journalists and media practitioners, uses the same mechanism to document and manage online harassment and abuse.
It syncs with the victim’s account to automatically recognize and flag harmful comments thus limiting journalists' access to abusive content and block, mute or save the comments for easy reporting.
“Women public figures who face most online abuses are also activists and politicians who face disproportionate amounts of attacks based on what they do, with severe consequences for themselves and for democracy at large,” Ms Patricia Georgiou, the Director of partnerships and business development at Jigsaw notes.
FieldShield will initially tackle trolling on Twitter before rolling out on other social media platforms.
It will kick off in Anglophone Africa before launching Arabic and Francophone versions in the coming year, 2023.
“No single tool or intervention will solve trolling. It is going to take commitment by a coalition of partners who each offer a specific expertise or solution. FieldShield is one way for pulling all these efforts together so users can have an easy, quick way to get help,” Mr Arenstein added.