Creating Technology for Social Change

High Impact Questions And Opportunities for Online Harassment Research and Action

Online harassment has been an enduring and evolving social concern for over 40 years, yet many of the most urgent empirical questions for public well-being and freedom remain unexplored. Nor can our answers currently evolve at the pace of socio-technical change.

On August 17th and 18th, we worked with Jigsaw to convene 35 researchers, advocates, and platform representatives to identify and advance high impact research about online harassment. Together, we have just finished a public report on our conversation:

[pdf] High Impact Questions And Opportunities for Online Harassment Research and Action

How should you use this report? We created this document to share what we learned and to draw attention to research projects led by our workshop participants. If you see a question or a project that you’re interested in, we encourage you to contact the people listed with the project.

Here’s summary of the report’s contents:

Key Questions For Progress on Online Harassment
The workshop opened with a morning discussion of key questions essential for achieving impact on online harassment. While our discussion focused on needs, we acknowledge that many hundreds of valuable resources have been published by advocates and researchers. Our statement of questions, which is not definitive, builds on their great work.

  • What are the personal and social costs of online harassment?
  • What methods can be used to study online harassment?
  • Why do people participate in online harassment?
  • How can we prevent and respond to online harassment?
  • How can we improve definitions of online harassment and responses to it?

Infrastructures To Support Research
Online harassment is widespread and occurs in a wide range of cultures. The scope and scale of harassment (and the continuing evolution of platforms and harassment strategies) outpace the ongoing research in this area. We discussed infrastructures that could help knowledge evolve at the scale of the problem.

  • An archive of online harassment reports
  • A taxonomy of harms from online harassment
  • Detecting personal attacks with machine learning
  • Infrastructures for experiments in moderation and platform design

High Impact Research Projects
One main goal of our workshop was to support participants to make progress on high impact research projects related to online harassment. Participants brought their questions and ideas, and we worked to offer support, help them refine the ideas, and discuss next steps. Of the 18 projects that attendees brought, here are four that we are able to share publicly.

  • Estimating the chilling effects from online harassment
  • Testing the outcomes of peer interventions against harassment
  • Investigating what motivates online harassing behaviors
  • Predicting who is most likely to non-consensually share intimate photos online

    A Note on Research Ethics
    Throughout the workshop, ethics came up in discussions of our specific research projects. Our report does not offer any recommendations or guidelines. At the same time, we all agreed that careful attention to ethics is especially important in research on online harassment. Some participants suggest the Association of Internet Researchers guideline: (2012) Ethical decision-making and Internet research 2.0: Recommendations from the AoIR ethics working committee.