A New Program Scours Twitter for School Bullying

It could help identify online bullies and their victims—and eventually help curtail schoolyard savagery.

One of the challenges with nipping school bullying in the bud is that students are often reluctant to let teachers and parents know what's going on. Kids think being labeled as a snitch will make their situations worse—if adults don't take bullying seriously, sometimes those fears are well founded. But there's one place students lose their inhibitions and dish all the details of what's going on: Twitter.

Indeed, computer science researchers at the University of Wisconsin at Madison say they've developed a program that scours Twitter for evidence of bullying. That sounds like a daunting task given that 250 million public tweets are sent every day. But the program was able to identify more than 15,000 specific bullying-related tweets. The researchers say that in some instances they were even able to determine who was the bully, who was the victim, and which tweeters are just reporting what's going on or serving as passive bystanders.

Because kids who are bullied often feel isolated and believe that the bullying is somehow their fault, the researchers are considering mapping the data on bullying incidents so that victims can see how widespread it is. And given that they have access to the unfiltered-for-adult-ears way that students are talking about bullying through social media, they also hope to use the data to help schools design more effective anti-bullying initiatives.

Image from Bully