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Bystanders to fight online abuse.

HARASSMENT remains a big problem on social networks; according to a Pew survey, 40 percent of Internet users have experienced it in some form.

One interesting approach is to get bystanders to be active monitors and reporters of harassment online or in person. Some universities, for instance, have started programmes to train students to step in if someone else is being harassed or appears at risk of being assaulted.

Such intervention, however, has also been criticised. Not everyone who is harassed wants others to step in, because that can sometimes make the harassment worse. And confronting a harasser can be difficult or even dangerous for a bystander. A recent study by researchers at Ohio State University found that bystanders were less likely to confront the harasser directly than to point out the harassing behaviour to a third party.

A new platform called HeartMob, which has raised funds on Kickstarter for testing and development with the goal of a public release this year, would give bystanders several ways to help that do not involve talking to a harasser. It allows users to document and report harassment. It also allows harassment victims to solicit the assistance of bystanders, who could help by sending supportive messages, by reporting the harassment if the victim prefers not to or to add weight to the victim's report, or by documenting the harassment for future reference. Victims can also ask bystanders to talk to a harasser directly, but the platform will include education to prevent those who do go the direct route from compounding the problem by harassing those accused of harassment.

To some extent, these third-party tools are doing work that social networks themselves should be doing. Twitter's chief executive, Dick Costolo, recently admitted that the service had not done enough to stop harassment, and the company announced last month that it was expanding the range of threatening language it prohibits and was testing a system for limiting how many people see abusive tweets.

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Publication:Qatar Tribune (Doha, Qatar)
Date:May 3, 2015
Words:341
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