FireAnt Launch Event

We will be running a launch event and workshop for a new software tool that we have created called FireAnt. The event and workshop will be held from 13:00 to 17:00 on Monday 22nd February 2016 here at Lancaster University.

FireAnt was created by Laurence Anthony as part of the 2015 ESRC-funded CASS-affiliated DOOM project on social media analysis. FireAnt is a free and easy-to-use tool designed to help corpus linguists and social scientists analyze Twitter and other social network data without the need for programming or database management skills. The following features of the tool will be explored in this workshop:

  • import different formats of data (e.g. Twitter data in JSON format, Reddit data in CSV format, etc.)
  • search that data and its associated metadata in a variety of ways (e.g., retrieve all tweets containing #blacklivesmatter sent in December 2015)
  • export the results to other formats including a plain text file for “standard” corpus analysis, an Excel/CSV file for statistical analysis, a timeline chart, and a network graph

We will be providing lunch at the start of the event and all materials for the workshop (including the software and help guide) on a USB drive. The schedule for the day can be found below.

SCHEDULE

Time Agenda
1315-1415 PDR Room: Lunch
1415-1430 Introduction, log on, etc.
1430-1530 FireAnt basics
1530-1545 Refuel: Coffee break
1545-1645 FireAnt advanced
1645-1700 Q&As, requests, bouquets, encores

Please note that places are extremely limited and must be booked in advance. If you would like to attend, please email Claire Hardaker (c.hardaker(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)lancaster.ac.uk) in the first instance.

Turning the tables on the stalkers

On 13th November, I presented a talk at a joint Paladin/Collyer-Bristow event. Paladin, the National Stalking Advocacy Service, assists high risk victims of stalking throughout England and Wales. Collyer Bristow’s Cyber Investigation Unit (CIU), which is headed up by partner Rhory Robertson, comprises a dedicated team of lawyers who advise victims of cyberstalking, cyber harassment, cyber bullying and internet trolls/trolling.

The major discussion of this event surrounded the notion of cyberstalking, how it affects victims, and how to combat this increasingly prevalent crime. My talk covered the research we are currently undertaking on the DOOM project, and how networks of abusive individuals can form online, potentially leading to escalation. Other speakers at the event included:

  • Nadine Dorries MP, Conservative MP for Mid Bedfordshire, and a cyberstalking target
  • Betsy De Thierry, Founder Director of the Trauma Recovery Centre, and a cyberstalking target
  • Laura Richards, CEO of Paladin, the National Stalking Advocacy Service
  • Steve Slater, Computer Forensics Manager, Devon & Cornwall Police
  • Alison Morgan, Barrister at 6KBW

Several points clearly emerged from this event, including the fact that there is much work to be done around stalking and harassment, that victims need to be taken much more seriously, that the correct legislation needs to be applied when prosecuting, and the recognition that online stalking can be just as damaging – if not more so in some cases – as physical, offline stalking.

Keynote at the House of Lords

On 17th October 2013 I spent the afternoon at the House of Lords, giving a keynote for the British Federation of Women Graduates (BFWG). Founded in 1907, BFWG has been providing scholarships for women in their final year of degree study since 1912, and it regularly makes awards from its charity to women graduates undertaking postgraduate study and research. BFWG is committed to promoting women’s opportunities in education and public life; fostering local, national, and international friendships; and improving the lives of women and girls worldwide. As such, it was a great honour to be asked by this wonderful organisation to give a keynote at their annual House of Lords seminar, sponsored by Baroness Randerson of Roath Park. Each year the seminar has a theme, and this year’s was, “A woman’s right to know”. The three invited speakers were:

Dr Shuruq Naguib (Lancaster University): “Muslim women: Gender and religious authority”. This talk discussed how women are represented in the Qu’ran and in Islamic thought throughout history.

Sian West (University of Kent): “Restorative justice: Does it work?” This talk considered the benefits of restorative justice and the role of women as victims or perpetrators in the social context in which they find themselves.

Dr Claire Hardaker (Lancaster University): “Meaning and meanness: Disconnecting the online threat from the offline reality”. In this talk, I covered four major areas: (1) What does the term trolling mean? (2) What motivations seem to prompt individuals to troll? (3) How is trolling carried out? And (4) How do those who troll “rationalise” their behaviour? (The slides for this talk can be accessed here.)

My many thanks to BFWG President Jenny Morley, to Vice-President Gabrielle Suff, to The Baroness Randerson, and to all the guests and attendees who made my visit especially warm, friendly, and hospitable. (Pictures of the seminar and lunch can be found here.)

CASS awarded £200,000 from landmark ESRC Urgency Grant Scheme

CASS is delighted to announce a successful ESRC application for funding on a project entitled “Twitter rape threats and the discourse of online misogyny” (ES/L008874/1). The award of £191,245.25 was one of the first (possibly even the first) to be made as part of the ESRC’s new Urgency Grants scheme. Under this scheme, applications are assessed very quickly, and projects also start within four weeks of a successful award. This particular project will begin in November and run for fourteen months. It will be part of the CASS Centre, and the team will be comprised of Claire Hardaker (PI), Tony McEnery (CI), Paul Baker (CI), Andrew Hardie (CI), Paul Iganski (CI), and two CASS-hosted research assistants.

This project will investigate the rape and death threats sent on Twitter in July and August 2013 to a number of high profile individuals, including MP Stella Creasy and journalist Caroline Criado-Perez. This project seeks to address the remarkable lack of research into such behaviour, especially in light of the fact that policymakers and legislators are under intense pressure to make quick, long-term decisions on relevant policy and procedure to allow enforcement agencies to act on this issue. Specifically, the project will investigate what the language used by those who send rape/death threats on Twitter reveals about…

  1. their concerns, interests, and ideologies; what concept do they seem to have of themselves and their role in society?
  2. their motivations and goals; what seems to trigger them? What do they seem to be seeking?
  3. the links between them and other individuals, topics, and behaviours; do they only produce misogynistic threats or do they engage in other hate-speech? Do they act alone or within networks?

The project will take a corpus approach, incorporating several innovative aspects, and it will produce results that should be relevant to several social sciences including sociology, criminology, politics, psychology, and law. It will also offer timely insight into an area where policy, practice, legislation, and enforcement is currently under intense scrutiny and requires such research to help shape future developments. As such, the results will likely be of interest to legislators, policymakers, investigative bodies, and law enforcement agencies, as well as the study participants, media, and general public.

An afternoon with OFCOM

In August I was invited to visit the Office of Communications (OFCOM) Southwark Bridge Road headquarters beside the Thames, to give a talk as part of Inside OFCOM – a series that has been presented at by such notable figures as Tim Wu, Vint Cerf, and Robert Peston, to name but a few! My remit was essentially an introductory talk about the online behaviour known as trolling. In the talk, we covered six major areas:

  • Definitions: given its rapidly changing nature, what does this word, “trolling” actually mean?
  • Facilitators, motives/triggers: what makes people feel like they can get away with this kind of behaviour? And what encourages them into behaving this way?
  • Strategies, logistics, networks: how is trolling carried out? What networks do individuals who troll form?
  • Self-protection: how do individuals who want to “misbehave” online go about protecting themselves from the consequences of that behaviour?
  • Legislation, policy: what legislation and policy currently exists that deals with this behaviour, and how useful, up-to-date, and comprehensive is it?
  • Ways forwards: what are the long-term, future ways of dealing with this behaviour?

The question-and-answer session after talk presented an excellent opportunity to discuss the current issues in managing online behaviour. It was especially helpful to be able to talk these aspects over with individuals and specialists actively working across a range of communicative environments (e.g. television, press, etc.) and who may, in the future, be called on to work with online communication too. In particular, there was a great moment of relief (for me!) when asked about the shortfall between media reportage of trolling, which tends to focus on only the most extreme, clear-cut cases, and the actual majority of real-world cases which tend not to be so clear cut. For instance, one issue that OFCOM itself regularly deals with is that hugely difficult grey area between freedom of expression and responsibility of expression, such as in extremely provocative press articles that cause widespread offence, and this exactly mirrors the same concerns found in regulating (or not) online interaction.

Overall, I look forward with great interest to the governmental developments in how to manage this particular area, and would like to extend my sincerest thanks to OFCOM for inviting me and being especially warm and welcoming hosts.

The anatomy of a troll

My research focuses on online aggression, deception, and manipulation. For the past few years I’ve focussed quite closely on the behaviour known as “trolling” (though notably now this term is being used to refer to an increasing scope of behaviours that could be more accurately termed cyberbullying, cyberharassment, and cyberstalking). My plans with regards to this particular area involve finishing the third paper in what has affectionately come to be known as the “trolling trilogy” (or worse, the “trollogy”). This started with the 2010 paper which tackled the question, “what is trolling?” and continued with the 2013 paper which went on to investigate, “how is trolling carried out?” The third paper will discuss, “how do people respond (to trolling)?” Within this area of my research, I am also working on a monograph purely about trolling.

In the near future, I am moving towards doing more research into the manipulation aspect of online behaviour. This includes working with online grooming data in collaboration with undercover police forces, in order to identify the strategies of manipulation that child sex offenders use to groom children online, and to relate these to the ways that those individuals respond to police questioning. This also involves looking more broadly at what might be described as trust-fraud behaviours, such as Munchausen-by-internet (where individuals masquerade as sufferers of illness to acquire attention, sympathy, money, etc.), and online predation (where individuals gain a target’s trust online in order to meet them offline with the intention of offending against them in some way, e.g. theft, rape, murder).


Recent news associated with this project:

  • Turning the tables on the stalkers (19 November 2014)

    On 13th November, I presented a talk at a joint Paladin/Collyer-Bristow event. Paladin, the National Stalking Advocacy Service, assists high risk victims of stalking throughout England and Wales. Collyer Bristow’s Cyber Investigation Unit (CIU), which is headed up by partner Rhory Robertson, comprises a dedicated team of lawyers who advise victims of cyberstalking, cyber harassment, cyber bullying and internet trolls/trolling. The major discussion ...

  • Sweepyface: a linguistic profile (6 October 2014)

    This morning brought news of the suicide of a media-branded ‘troll’. Brenda Leyland, the 63 year-old woman behind the @sweepyface Twitter account, a self-proclaimed “researcher” and “anti-McCann” advocate was found dead at a Marriott hotel on Saturday 4th October in Leicester. She was recently contacted by a reporter at Sky News regarding her Twitter activity ...

  • An afternoon with OFCOM (11 October 2013)

    In August I was invited to visit the Office of Communications (OFCOM) Southwark Bridge Road headquarters beside the Thames, to give a talk as part of Inside OFCOM – a series that has been presented at by such notable figures as Tim Wu, Vint Cerf, and Robert Peston, to name but a few! My remit ...

  • Writing for the press: the deleted scenes (12 August 2013)

    In late July and early August 2013, the stories of Caroline Criado-Perez, the bomb threats, and latterly, the horrific tragedy of Hannah Smith broke across the media, and as a result, the behaviour supposedly known as “trolling” was pitched squarely into the limelight. There was the inevitable flurry of dissections, analyses, and opinion pieces, and ...

  • Web of words: A short history of the troll (15 July 2013)

    Over the past fortnight, various broadsheets and media outlets (see bibliography) picked up the story of my recent article, ‘“Uh…..not to be nitpicky,,,,,but…the past tense of drag is dragged, not drug.”: An overview of trolling strategies‘ (2013), which came out in the Journal of Language Aggression and Conflict. Of the thousands of comments collectively posted ...

  • Dr Claire Hardaker takes part in Houses of Parliament Debate asking “Does the Punishment of Trolls Infringe on an Individual’s Freedom of Speech?” (20 June 2013)

    Yesterday, Dr Claire Hardaker (Department of Linguistics and English Language, Lancaster University) took part in a ministerial debate hosted by Steve Rotheram MP at the Houses of Parliament. Dr Hardaker specialises in linguistic aggression, deception, and manipulation, particularly online, and looks at behaviours such as flaming, trolling, cyberbullying, and online grooming. The roundtable, entitled, “Does the ...

Writing for the press: the deleted scenes

In late July and early August 2013, the stories of Caroline Criado-Perez, the bomb threats, and latterly, the horrific tragedy of Hannah Smith broke across the media, and as a result, the behaviour supposedly known as “trolling” was pitched squarely into the limelight. There was the inevitable flurry of dissections, analyses, and opinion pieces, and no doubt like any number of academics in similar lines of work, I was asked to write various articles on this behaviour. Some I turned down for different reasons, but one that I accepted was for the Observer. (Here’s the final version that came out in both the Observer and the Guardian.)

Like the majority of people, I have been mostly in the dark about how the media works behind the scenes. That said, throughout my time at university, I have studied areas like Critical Discourse Analysis and the language of the media, and over the past three years, my work has been picked up a few times in small ways by the media, so I probably had a better idea than many. I realise now, however, that even with this prior knowledge, I was still pretty naive about the process. I wasn’t too surprised, then, when I got a number of comments on the Observer article raising exactly the sorts of questions I too would have asked before I’d gone through what I can only describe as a steep media learning curve. There were, essentially, three main issues that kept recurring:

(1)    Why didn’t you talk about [insert related issue here]? This other thing is also important!

(2)  Why didn’t you define trolling properly? This isn’t what I’d call trolling!

(3)   Why did you only mention the negative types of trolling? There are good kinds too!

All three questions are interrelated in various ways, but I’ve artificially separated them out because each gives me a chance to explain something that I’ve learned about what happens behind the scenes during the process of producing media content.

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Web of words: A short history of the troll

Over the past fortnight, various broadsheets and media outlets (see bibliography) picked up the story of my recent article, ‘“Uh…..not to be nitpicky,,,,,but…the past tense of drag is dragged, not drug.”: An overview of trolling strategies‘ (2013), which came out in the Journal of Language Aggression and Conflict. Of the thousands of comments collectively posted on those articles, one particularly interesting point that came through (out of many) was the general sense that there exists a single, fixed, canonical definition of the word troll which I ought to be using and had somehow missed.

So what is the definition of troll? In my thesis, I spent a rather lengthy 18,127 words trying to answer precisely this question, and very early on I realised that trying to discover, or, if one didn’t exist, to create a clean, robust, working definition that everyone would agree with would be close to impossible. There are at least three major problems, which for simplicity’s sake are best referred to as history, agreement, and change.

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