8 January 2014 16:13

Lancaster researchers are investigating why people make rape threats on Twitter to help tackle increasing numbers of high-profile online hate campaigns against women.

Dr Claire Hardaker, Linguistics and English Language, has been awarded £200,000 by the Economic and Social Research Council to study extreme online misogynistic threats.

Data is urgently needed to help gain a proper understanding of the motivation and behaviour of people who make online threats in order to inform effective policy.

Since Twitter took off as a social media platform, a minority of people – particularly those in the public eye - have been targeted by ‘trolls’ making threats of sexual violence. Until recently, little action has been taken against them.

Legislative bodies came under intense public pressure to "fix" the issue, and the Department for Culture Media and Sport Select Committee announced an autumn inquiry into "harmful online content".

Dr Hardaker, who specialises in researching computer-based aggression, deception, and manipulation, says there is a lack of research into such behaviour, which makes a sensible, evidence-based approach difficult.

She said: “This much needed new data will look at large numbers of real examples of Twitter threats and begin to answer questions such as, who are these ‘trolls’? Why do they make rape threats? What other behaviour do they engage in? – For example, do they seek to contact their victim in the real world?”

Dr Hardaker will work in conjunction with the CASS centre (Corpus Approaches to Social Sciences). Early results from the research will be reported back in January 2014 with full results expected July 2014.