Understanding and Responding to Online Harassment

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Online harassment is a problem with a long history, including a history of academic research on harassment, ranging across a wide range of fields. On this page, we list short collections of readings that will give you a start on many of the areas relevant to understanding and responding to online harassment.

Flagging and Reporting Systems

Platforms often offer systems for flagging or reporting online harassment. These readings describe this approach, its effects, and its limitations.

Volunteer Moderators

One approach to dealing with online harassment is to recruit volunteer moderators or responders to take a special role on a platform or in a community. This is the approach taken by Google Groups, Meetup.com, Reddit, Facebook Groups, and many online forums.

  • What actions could moderators be supported to take? Grimmelman's paper offers a helpful taxonomy of moderation strategies, focusing on the "verbs of moderation" and the kinds of powers you might give moderators. Grimmelman also cites many papers and articles relevant to these possible actions. Quinn offers an alternative to Grimmelman's systematic approach, describing the "ethos" that is created through community and moderation by a few. In ongoing work, Matias is researching the work of Reddit's moderators.
  • Is asking volunteers to moderate online conversation asking them to do free work? Postigo's paper offers an overview of AOL's community leaders and the Department of Labor investigation into the work of moderators in the early 2000s.
  • Is Self-Governance Democratic? Shaw and HIll's quantitative research across 683 different wikis shows that "peer production entails oligarchic organizational forms," in line with a trend for large democracies to become oligrachic. This issue is taken up in Nathaniel Tkacz's book, where he outlines the kinds of contention that occur in "open organizations," a book that is as much about the idea of Wikipedia as the way Wikipedia actually works.
  • Why do people do volunteer moderation? In behavioural economics experiments, Hergueaux finds that Wikipedia's administrators are most motivated by social image rather than reciprocity or altruism. Butler, Sproul, Kiesler, and Kraut offer survey results showing a diversity of formal and informal community work in online groups, and that people's participation can be related to how well they know other community members.