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Saba Ashfaq

Community member, parent and outreach director for The Rural Digital Youth Resiliency Project
Saba recalls the day after the Christchurch shooting in New Zealand, sitting with family and friends, processing the news from across the globe that hit close to home in West Virginia. She describes a shift in what she calls her naiveté and trust, her growing awareness of anti-Muslim sentiment online and in the region, and a new understanding of how online hate and manipulation makes the leap from meme culture to real-world violence. Matter-of-fact, resolute and determined to remain optimistic and active in her community, Saba turns her efforts toward programs and outreach to help susceptible and targeted youth in Appalachia.

Caleb Cain

Appalachian, former 'alt-right' extremist, currently studying misinformation and the far right
In March 2019, on a train ride back from New York after interviewing experts, we listened to an emotional YouTube video we discovered from Caleb Cain, a former white supremacist who denounced his former participation in response to the Christchurch shooting that had occurred just the week before. At the time we were still processing the shooting as a family, and Caleb’s story was resonant — even before we discovered he was from Fairmont, WV, just a few miles south of us. Caleb’s story — while it would later be told on a grand scale by The New York Times in The Making of a Youtube Radical — was an intimate connection for us that served as punctuation to the still unfolding story rooted in our region and in our home.

Michelle Ferrier

Appalachian and scholar of new media technologies, digital identity and online abuse
As the founder of Trollbusters, a service for journalists and individuals experiencing online abuse, Michelle Ferrier has long advocated for a reckoning between the reckless optimism of Silicon Valley’s tech elite and the real experiences of communities online, especially Black women and others targeted with hate and violence. Dr. Ferrier is also an Appalachian and shares insights into how the region’s complicated history and culture can be exploited by manipulation online.


Director at the Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism, Middlebury Institute of International Studies

Hawa Diawara

Community member, activist for Black Americans and Muslim youth in Appalachia
Raised in Ohio and relocated to West Virginia, Hawa discusses the differences and challenges creating community in urban and rural settings in Appalachia. Committed to empathetic interventions for Appalachian youth, she addresses the lure for youth, especially in a pandemic, of finding acceptance and mentorship in their online worlds and the tactics of manipulation that harm susceptible youth and targeted community members.

Thomas McBee

Author, film and TV writer, reporter on gender, culture and masculinity