8 December 2014 15:47

Journalist Caroline Criado-Perez was among a high profile audience invited to Twitter HQ to learn about Lancaster research into the abuse she suffered online.

In 2013, she successfully campaigned to have a woman appear on a banknote but this led to misogynistic abuse on Twitter, which escalated into death and bomb threats sent to several other prominent women.

The case led Dr Claire Hardaker and Mark McGlashan from Lancaster University’s Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Sciences (CASS) to conduct pioneering research into social media abuse.

They found that:

  • Online twitter trolls can form networks which escalate the abuse
  • The dataset of 100,000 tweets contains a network of 202 risky accounts, of which 61 are high risk (i.e. sending rape, death, and bomb threats)
  • Of those risky accounts, a smaller selection also engage in other kinds of hate-speech, such as racism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism

Their findings were presented to the Twitter policy team, senior government officials, and charities at a meeting at the company’s HQ in London, followed by a roundtable discussion looking at how to deal with abuse online from the perspective of legislators, policy makers, charities, and victims.

Dr Hardaker said: “Online abuse is an issue that is increasingly recognised by policy makers, politicians, academics, and police forces on a global scale. Tragic stories detailing the outcomes of online victimisation and abuse have become a staple feature in mainstream news outlets. However, the availability of resources, methods and expertise for investigating online rape threats and hate speech is surprisingly scarce. There is also very little research in the area informing the government and legislators on the most appropriate courses of action.”

The research Discourses of Online Misogyny (DOOM), funded by the ESRC, aims to bridge this gap by providing methods that should help Twitter better enforce its public policy and the police to investigate matters of hate speech and abusive online content more effectively.

A full report from the project will be made available in March 2015.