by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is spending nearly $1 million for a study that will “detect harassing messages” on Twitter in order to provide “safe social interactions” online.
The study, led by researchers at Wright [State] University, began this August. It intends to curb cyberbullying, whether at school or in the workplace.
“As social media permeates our daily life, there has been a sharp rise in the use of social media to humiliate, bully, and threaten others, which has come with harmful consequences such as emotional distress, depression, and suicide,” according to the grant for the project. “The October 2014 Pew Research survey shows that 73 [percent] of adult Internet users have observed online harassment and 40 [percent] have experienced it. The prevalence and serious consequences of online harassment present both social and technological challenges.”
The study involves looking at “power relationships” between online social media users to help identify if someone is being harassed.
“This project identifies harassing messages in social media, through a combination of text analysis and the use of other clues in the social media (e.g., indications of power relationships between sender and receiver of a potentially harassing message.),” the grant said. “The project will develop prototypes to detect harassing messages in Twitter; the proposed techniques can be adapted to other platforms, such as Facebook, online forums, and blogs.”
Researchers hope to be able to identify “the generic language of insult,” which they described as profanities and offensive language.
The study will involve high school and college students to “ensure wide impact of scientific research on the support for safe social interactions.”