Machine learning algorithms can identify bullies and aggressors on Twitter with 90 percent accuracy

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A team of researchers, including faculty at Binghamton University, have developed machine learning algorithms which can successfully identify bullies and aggressors on Twitter with 90 percent accuracy.

Effective tools for detecting harmful actions on social media are scarce, as this type of behavior is often ambiguous in nature and/or exhibited via seemingly superficial comments and criticisms.

Aiming to address this gap, a research team featuring Binghamton University computer scientist Jeremy Blackburn analyzed the behavioral patterns exhibited by abusive Twitter users and their differences from other Twitter users.

“We built crawlers – programs that collect data from Twitter via variety of mechanisms,” said Blackburn.

“We gathered tweets of Twitter users, their profiles, as well as (social) network-related things, like who they follow and who follows them.”

The researchers then performed natural language processing and sentiment analysis on the tweets themselves, as well as a variety of social network analyses on the connections between users.

The researchers developed algorithms to automatically classify two specific types of offensive online behavior, i.e., cyberbullying and cyberaggression.

The algorithms were able to identify abusive users on Twitter with 90 percent accuracy. These are users who engage in harassing behavior, e.g. those who send death threats or make racist remarks to users.

“In a nutshell, the algorithms ‘learn’ how to tell the difference between bullies and typical users by weighing certain features as they are shown more examples,” said Blackburn.

While this research can help mitigate cyberbullying, it is only a first step, said Blackburn.

“One of the biggest issues with cyber safety problems is the damage being done is to humans, and is very difficult to ‘undo,'” Said Blackburn.

“For example, our research indicates that machine learning can be used to automatically detect users that are cyberbullies, and thus could help Twitter and other social media platforms remove problematic users. However, such a system is ultimately reactive: it does not inherently prevent bullying actions, it just identifies them taking place at scale.

And the unfortunate truth is that even if bullying accounts are deleted, even if all their previous attacks are deleted, the victims still saw and were potentially affected by them.”

Blackburn and his team are currently exploring pro-active mitigation techniques to deal with harassment campaigns.

The study, “Detecting Cyberbullying and Cyberaggression in Social Media,” was published in Transactions on the Web.


What Is Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place over digital devices like cell phones, computers, and tablets.

Cyberbullying can occur through SMS, Text, and apps, or online in social media, forums, or gaming where people can view, participate in, or share content.

Cyberbullying includes sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else. It can include sharing personal or private information about someone else causing embarrassment or humiliation. Some cyberbullying crosses the line into unlawful or criminal behavior.

The most common places where cyberbullying occurs are:

  • Social Media, such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter
  • SMS (Short Message Service) also known as Text Message sent through devices
  • Instant Message (via devices, email provider services, apps, and social media messaging features)
  • Email

Special Concerns

With the prevalence of social media and digital forums, comments, photos, posts, and content shared by individuals can often be viewed by strangers as well as acquaintances. The content an individual shares online – both their personal content as well as any negative, mean, or hurtful content – creates a kind of permanent public record of their views, activities, and behavior.

This public record can be thought of as an online reputation, which may be accessible to schools, employers, colleges, clubs, and others who may be researching an individual now or in the future. Cyberbullying can harm the online reputations of everyone involved – not just the person being bullied, but those doing the bullying or participating in it. Cyberbullying has unique concerns in that it can be:

Persistent – Digital devices offer an ability to immediately and continuously communicate 24 hours a day, so it can be difficult for children experiencing cyberbullying to find relief.

Permanent – Most information communicated electronically is permanent and public, if not reported and removed. A negative online reputation, including for those who bully, can impact college admissions, employment, and other areas of life.

Hard to Notice – Because teachers and parents may not overhear or see cyberbullying taking place, it is harder to recognize.

Laws and Sanctions

Although all states have laws requiring schools to respond to bullying, many states do not include cyberbullying under these laws or specify the role schools should play in responding to bullying that takes place outside of school.

Schools may take action either as required by law, or with local or school policies that allow them to discipline or take other action.

Some states also have provisions to address bullying if it affects school performance. You can learn about the laws and policies in each state, including if they cover cyberbullying.


More information: Detecting Cyberbullying and Cyberaggression in Social Media, arXiv:1907.08873 [cs.SI] arxiv.org/abs/1907.08873

Provided by University of Dundee

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