Creating Technology for Social Change

A New Starting Point for Understanding Online Harassment

If you’re a platform designer or a researcher just starting to look into the issue of online harassment, where is a good place to start? To help you out, we have created an Online Harassment Resource Guide, which covers academic research on the topic.

In the months after I led the research team on a peer reviewed report about harassment on Twitter, many designers, platform operators, and advocates have asked me if there’s any academic research about online harassment and what it says. As a researcher, I felt the opposite problem. Online harassment and abuse have motivated so much research that it can be hard to wade through it all, especially because the research often appears in fields that rarely talk to each other. In many cases, designers and advocates propose great ideas that have also been tried elsewhere, approaches whose benefits and problems have already been discussed at length.

The Online Harassment Resource Guide offers a starting point for people looking for an introductory overview to understanding and responding to online harassment. It covers scholarship in computer science, law, clinical psychology, history, journalism, communications, sociology, economics, machine learning, and more, incorporating suggestions from 20 scholars and advocates in over a dozen fields.

Our guide focuses mostly on scholarly publications and reports by organizations, resources that are often less visible to people who aren’t within universities. It is not the final word on issues of online harassment, since so many important perspectives are from people outside of academia and outside journal publications. However, since the stakes are so high and the problems are so persistent, we strongly believe in the value of the considered work that this research represents. Together, we have taken a pool of more than 1,200 academic articles (with some overlaps), and narrowed them down to the following scholarly conversations about online harassment:

  • Understanding Online Harassment
  • Trolls and Trolling Culture
  • Flagging and Reporting Systems
  • Volunteer Moderators
  • Automated Detection and Prediction of Social Behaviour Online
  • Speech and the Law
  • Voting and Distributed Moderation
  • Bystander Interventions
  • Secondary, Vicarious Trauma For People Who Help
  • Racism and Sexism Online
  • Online Misinformation

We’re hosting our resource on Wikimedia’s servers so we can continue to grow and adapt the guide based on interest and suggestions from readers (here’s the list of proposed sections). So please contact me directly if there are unanswered questions where you’re looking for answers, or if you would like to help out. If you are a researcher and would like access to our Zotero group, contact me and I can share our wider list.

The majority of work to create this guide was carried out in a day-long session at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society by our team of primary authors, who collected resources, prioritized them, and contributed in many cases to the current document: J. Nathan Matias, Susan Benesch, Patrick Earley, Tarleton Gillespie, Brian Keegan, Nathaniel Levy, and Erin Maher. Thanks everyone for this remarkable effort! I owe special thanks to Karen Schoellkopf, Patrick Earley, Winter Mason, the HeartMob team, and Women, Action, and the Media, and the Coral Project, for convincing me that this would be widely helpful.

We are also grateful to the following people, who contributed references to our initial pile: Whitney Erin Boesel, Willow Brugh, Danielle Citron, Katherine Cross, Maral Dadvar, David Eichert, Sarah Jeong, Ethan Katsh, Lisa Nakamura, Joseph Reagle, Carrie Rentschler, Rachel Simons, Bruce Schneier, and Cindy Southworth. Special thanks also to the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, who hosted our intial edit-a-thon, and to Microsoft Research, who supported some of the early stages of this project through my summer internship.