Bullying Research Taps into Technology

The popularity of social media as an outlet for communication is central to new research out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison that may lead to a deeper understanding of bullying behaviors.  The study uses algorithms and a language-analyzing computer to scan millions of posts from the social media platform Twitter, looking for certain words and language patterns that indicate discussion of, or actual, bullying situations.  This method has advantages over traditional surveying of school-age youth as it expands upon the number of data collection points (typically survey data is a one-shot deal) and may limit self reporting bias on such a sensitive topic.

To date, the study has found that posts about or conversations relating to bullying are not at all uncommon, with comments ranging from the general to the event-specific adding up to approximately 15,000 Tweets a day. The ability to analyze ongoing interactions , even at the group level,  has led to the identification of a new role in bullying besides victim and victimizer – the reporter.  The researchers hope to expand their work to include additional social network platforms in the near future.

This kind of research is exactly what is needed to inform innovative early intervention strategies for adolescents and promote resilience factors against social and familial stressors that may lead to high-risk behaviors.  Social media has only begun to influence the nonprofit sector, albeit mostly  through marketing and fundraising, but targeted outreach and intervention are not far behind.