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Contact: Anthony Moore
University of Pittsburgh

Designing defenses against cyberbullying

Pitt-led research team develops recommendations for countering cruel online behavior

PITTSBURGH—Social media websites, such as Facebook and Twitter, can be fertile ground for cruel and inappropriate online behavior among young people. Unlike traditional bullying in schoolyards or other public places, cyberbullying can happen at anytime and cruel messages can remain viewable for indeterminate amounts of time, leaving subjects of harassment and intimidation without refuge.

An information science research team, led by University of Pittsburgh School of Information Sciences Professor Leanne Bowler, has studied the issue of cyberbullying among adolescents and young adults—and developed seven recommendations for website design features that could mitigate online bullying behaviors.

A research paper on their work, titled "Developing Design Interventions for Cyberbullying: A Narrative-Based Participatory Approach," was recently honored with Microsoft Research's prestigious Lee Dirks Best Paper Award after Bowler's team presented it at iConference 2014, an international gathering of information science professionals and scholars in Berlin, Germany, in March. Bowler's collaborators are Pitt graduate student Eleanor Mattern and former Pitt faculty member Cory Knobel, an assistant adjunct professor of informatics at the University of California at Irvine.

"Young people have every right to expect a social media experience that encourages well being and positive interactions between them and their peers. This should be a fundamental goal of those charged with developing online environments," said Bowler. "Designers of such environments should take from this research project lessons about the expectations that young people hold, and they should build environments that better reflect the values, needs, and perspectives of our young people."

For the project, the researchers met with two focus groups—one composed of high school teenagers and the other of undergraduate students—to create a series of cyberbullying scenarios. The focus group participants then worked with the researchers to pinpoint precise moments in the scenarios when bullying interventions were needed.

Collectively, they then developed a set of seven recommendations for designs on social media sites that could offer the bullied, and their supporters, a range of active and passive features to alleviate and prevent inappropriate harassment online. The seven recommendations do not specify exactly what site administrators should add to their sites; rather, they suggest design themes around which they could build features that would best fit their unique sites. The seven design recommendations follow.

Issues regarding the wellbeing and growth of young people lie at the heart of Bowler's academic career.

Within Pitt's School of Information Sciences, Bowler teaches courses on new media literacy, technology for young people, children's literature and media, and early literacy and language development. Her research focuses on young people and their relationships with computers, media, and mobile technology. Bowler's recent studies have investigated teen and youth information seeking, mindful online behavior, and health information seeking online, among other topics.

In addition to the Lee Dirks Best Paper Award, Bowler has recently been awarded a 2014 Library and Information Science Research Grant from the Online Computer Library Center and the Association for Library and Information Science Education for her work in the area of teen health information.

Prior to arriving at Pitt in 2008, Bowler worked as an information science professional in a variety of settings, including public libraries and hospitals. She earned a Master of Education, a Master of Library Science, and a PhD degree in library and information science, all from McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada; her PhD dissertation explored the landscape of adolescent metacognitive knowledge during the information search process.


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