DCU researchers find new methods to tackle subtle cyberbullying

A new system in blocking subtle, offensive language used in cyberbullying is being developed by researchers working with DCU’s Anti-Bullying Centre.

The project has been dubbed Uonevu after the Swahili word for bullying. It is designed to detect metaphorical use of language, often including negative stereotypes, which is much harder to detect than explicit derogatory language and offensive words.

Information collected by researchers will be used to build an anti-cyberbullying system capable of automatically recognising subtle, non-explicit forms of bullying language that is widespread online but which is typically difficult to identify.

Launched by the Center for Global Intelligent Content, the Uonevu platform uses crowd sourcing to build up a database of offensive stereotypes through a website. The data is then used to detect non-literal forms of online bullying through multiple languages and social media channels.

Dr. Johannes Leveling, project head at DCU, said that the project was “aiming to detect these more subtle instances of cyberbullying.”

“For example, a Facebook post that asks, ‘are you wearing your blouse today?’ does not contain anything that would traditionally be tagged as offensive. However, to a 15-year-old boy receiving the message, this post could imply that he is effeminate or gay. It is this subtle form of bullying that Centre for Global Intelligent Content researchers are aiming to detect,” he explained.

Traditionally, anti-cyberbullying measures use a ‘blacklist’ to filter and block offensive words or phrases. Often, subtler forms of harassment and use of metaphorical language are much harder to detect.

The idea for the project had emerged from the experiences of Dr Leveling’s nephew with cyberbullying. The pitch for a system detecting subtle linguistics dovetailed with his own work for CNGL.

“We are trying to account for different cultural contexts,” Eduardo Shanahan, a senior engineer for CNGL, said also. “Something that is said in Spanish isn’t the same when translated to English.”

The Uonevu system was demoed at Ireland’s first national cyberbullying conference held by DCU’s Anti-Bullying Centre and Bully4U at Dublin Castle. Dr. Leveling hope to have it rolling out to schools soon.

A recent survey conducted by the Anti-Bullying Center showed 53% of those surveyed were made upset by cyberbullying. The study was carried out on a group of 2,700 students aged between 12 and 16 late last year.

Leandro Pondoc

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