“Thinking before posting?” Reducing cyber harassment on social networking sites through a reflective message

Harassment on online social media services or social networking sites is a growing issue and in particular, as there are a large number (1/5th) of Canadian adolescents that suffer victimization it is something that we should be looking at very seriously. Kathleen Van Royen, Karolien Poels and Heidi Vandebosch from Belgium and Philippe Adam from Australia noted that, despite recognition of self-control and impulse control in adolescents as a possible factor in harassment in this group there has been little to test this idea, or related preventative methods.

Two factors that may facilitate harassment online are a lack of self-control, or impulsivity and disinhibition due to being online. Self-control refers to the ability to suppress inappropriate actions and impulsiveness refers to a tendency toward taking acting without thinking in a ‘’hot’ state. Online disinhibition with social networks may be due to a minimization of authority, a lack of non-verbal cues and a feeling of disassociation from actions that happen online.

The group looked to test the impact of guided reflection via messaging on posting behavior. They tested a number of different types of messages including those noting the parent as a potential audience, the disapproval of bystanders, and harm to the recipient of the message.
The participants were 321 students in secondary schools in Dutch speaking Belgium.

Participants were presented with a scenario based around the phenomena known as ‘slut-shaming’ in which their friend ‘Merel’ posted that her friend ‘Hanna’ had stolen her boyfriend. They were then presented with possible responses that ranged from supportive (‘don’t mind Hanna’ to harassing (‘slut’ and ‘whore’) and asked which comment they would make.

They were then randomly subjected to one of the following reflection options:

  1. A Message with parents as audience – “The comment could be read by your parents and friend’s parents. Are you sure to post it?”
  2. A Message with disapproval by others  – “Many others disapprove this comment. Are you sure to post it?”
  3. A Message with potential harm for the receiver –  “This comment may be hurtful for the receiver. Are you sure to post it?”
  4. Only a time delay

The participants then answered the question again.

All of the four reflection options reduced the intention to post a harassing comment, but not in any great way more than the time delay. Importantly, the message didn’t reduce the effect and in a practical situation would serve to prevent a time delay from causing frustration with the posting mechanism.This is an interesting exploration in crime prevention. More testing on how this works in practical situations, with different message wording and with more specific definitions of the disapproving others could provide more insights as well as work to ensure that the measures don’t have a negative effect.

If you are interested in harassment prevention /  moderation technologies take a look at the related AMiCA project at http://www.amicaproject.be

6 pages in an academic style.

Van Royen, K., Poels, K., Vandebosch, H., & Adam, P. (2017). “Thinking before posting?” Reducing cyber harassment on social networking sites through a reflective message. Computers in Human Behavior, 66, 345-352.

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