The Internet can be a hostile place, and Twitter is no exception. According to a new study, about 15,000 bullying-related tweets are posted every day, meaning more than 100,000 nasty messages taint the digital world each week.
To further understand what happens in the virtual world, researchers from the University of Wisconsin in Madison trained a computer to analyze Twitter messages using an algorithm created to point out important words or symbols that may indicate bullying. In 2011, during the time of this study, 250 million public tweets were being sent daily -- a number almost 10 times the population of the state of Texas.
In a paper presented to the Association for Computational Linguistics earlier this summer, Jun-Ming Xu, Kwang-Sung Jun, Xiaojin Zhu and Amy Bellmore discussed how they were able to develop their system of labeling tweets. Ranks were assigned to certain words and emoticons (smiley faces, frowning faces and the like), and a machine would then read the value of each of these words and symbols.
“In machine learning,” says Zhu, “the algorithm reads each tweet as a short text document, and it goes about analyzing the word usage to find the important words that mark bullying events.” Some of examples of these words were "mean," "kicked," "called," and "suicide," per the research paper.
"What we found, very importantly, was that quite often the victim and the bully and even bystanders talk about a real-world bullying incident on social media," Zhu told the University of Wisconsin-Madison News.
While the computer was able to identify tradition roles in the bullying cycle (such as bullies, victims, accusers and defenders), their research also lead to a new role: the reporter.
"It's just like it sounds," Bellmore stated, as reported by Phyc.org. "A child who witnessed or found out about, but wasn't participating in, a bullying encounter."
Incidents of "reporter" style tweeting recently made negative headlines when a 17-year-old boy snapped a photo of a man dying in the street, but didn't stop to assist him. His apathetic actions sparked a debate -- when do we, as onlookers, interfere?
A similar question could be asked with bullying. “Kids are pretty savvy about keeping bullying outside of adult supervision, and bullying victims are very reluctant to tell adults about it happening to them for a host of reasons," Bellmore said, per the University of Wisconsin-Madison News. “They don’t want to look like a tattletale, or they think an adult might not do anything about it."
According to the Milwaikee Journal Sentinel, the reachers would like to continue their study by digging into other social networks, such as Facebook. Bellmore and Zhu also hope these finding will help policy-makers better understand the morphing world of cyberbullying.
Are you surprised to learn that 15,000 bullying-related tweets are posted daily? Do you think this research can help society better understand the digital world? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section, or tweet us at [@HuffPostTech].
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