I’m Dr. Henry Lieberman, principal research scientist at the MIT Media Lab, investigating cyberbullying. Ask me anything.
Mar 11th 2013 by HLieberman • 11 Questions • 621 Points
Henry Lieberman, here, starting the AMA at 12:30pm EDT on Monday 11 March until 2:30pm. I had already answered a few questions, below.
I am studying online bullying behavior, along with my students Karthik Dinakar and Birago Jones. We are working on software that can detect bullying language and behavior. Here's a very short video I did recently with NowThisNews about our work: http://nowth.is/Y9GUH1. See also this article in The Atlantic, http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/03/how-to-stop-bullies/309217/
We hope that the outcome of our work will be to help educate kids about bullying, and to get everybody involved (bullies, victims, and bystanders) to reflect on their behavior. We hope this will help make every social networks a more welcoming and safe environment to interact.
Where I teach many of the older teachers say "Kids always do a better job at policing themselves then we can ever do."
Can you address this statement?
Yes, that's true. What's heartening to me is the courage of many kids who have started anti-bullying groups in their schools, gay-straight alliances, and other positive social movements. I don't consider that "policing", but just a way for kids to help set the direction of their own social groups. The message is stronger and more effective when it comes from kids themselves than from adults.
I know you are investigating cyber bullying, but what about if it is happening on and off the web? My nephew is going through this right now, and the rules on how to handle it are so delicate. It's hard to get some justice.
I'm sorry to hear about your nephew. What we can do online is to provide education that explains to kids why it occurs, and to give them resources, help, and emotional support to cope with it when it does. Hopefully, this will change attitudes so that, ultimately, there will be less face-to-face bullying as well.
Has any part of your bullying research ever made you laugh?
Yes! Sometimes humor is a great way to deflect bullying, and we've seen kids be incredibly clever in their responses. Attempts at humor by bullies, in contrast, are mostly crude and unfunny.
What approach are you taking to investigate cyber bullying? do you think that the bully is all at fault(saying that the bully is abused at home or something where bullying is an escape to some or joke to others)? do you think social media is doing enough to help stop cyber bullying?
For a short introduction, see the Atlantic article in my introduction. For technical readers, a journal article is here: http://www.media.mit.edu/~lieber/Publications/Bullying-TiiS.pdf
We're not interested in "blame", be it the perpetrator or society as a whole. We're interested in what we can do to either prevent the problem or mitigate its consequences.
I don't think social networks are doing enough right now. As our work shows, the software of the social network itself can help change people's attitudes and either help create a welcoming environment, or not.
How does the program react to someone saying something mean about themselves?
The goal of our program is to detect possible cases of cyberbullying, we can't make a definitive judgment about whether something is cyberbullying or not. There are many ways to "fool" the program. We just want to reach the level of confidence where it makes sense to offer the person some kind of help. If our judgment isn't correct, and the person doesn't really need the help, there's not much harm done.