Can Machine Learning Pick Out The Bullies?

November 13, 2019

In Walt Disney’s 1942 classic Bambi, Thumper the rabbit was told, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.”

Poor grammar aside, the thumping rabbit did delivered wise advice to the audience. Then came the Internet and anonymity, when the trolls were released to the world. Internet bullying is one of the world’s top cyber crimes, along with identity and money theft. Passionate anti-bullying campaigners, particularly individuals who were cyber-bullying victims, want social media Web sites to police their users and prevent the abusive crime. Trying to police the Internet is like herding cats. It might be possible with the right type of fish, but cats are not herd animals and scatter once the tasty fish is gone.

Technology might have advanced enough to detect bullying and AI could be the answer. Innovation Toronto wrote, “Machine Learning Algorithms Can Successfully Identify Bullies And Aggressors On Twitter With 90 Percent Accuracy.” AI’s biggest problem is that algorithms can identify and harvest information, they lack the ability to understand emotion and context. Many bullying actions on the Internet are sarcastic or hidden within metaphors.

Computer scientist Jeremy Blackburn and his team from Binghamton University analyzed bullying behavior patterns on Twitter. They discovered useful information to understand the trolls:

“ ‘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., cyber bullying and cyber aggression. 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.”

Blackburn and his teams’ algorithm only detects the aggressive behavior, it does not do anything to prevent cyber bullying. The victims still see and are harmed by the comments and bullying users, but it does give Twitter a heads up on removing the trolls.

The anti-bullying algorithm prevents bullying only after there are victims. It does little assist the victims, but it does prevent future attacks. What steps need to be taken to prevent bullying altogether? Maybe schools need to teach classes on Internet etiquette with the Common Core, then again if it is not on the test it will not be in a classroom.

Whitney Grace, November 13, 2019

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