We are very pleased like to announce an event that we are live streaming on YouTube and Google+ next week. We hope you can find time to attend online*; if not, the recording will be available on YouTube afterwards.
From 1730 – 1900 GMT on 4 November, the ESRC Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science is hosting a live event in association with the ESRC Festival of Social Sciences and in tangent with our popular FutureLearn course. We would be thrilled if you could ‘tune in’ and collaborate with us during “Language Matters: Communication, Culture, and Society”.
This evening is a mini-series of four informal talks showcasing the impact of language on society. These are presented by some leading names in corpus linguistics (including the CASS Principal Investigator, Tony McEnery) and their talks draw upon the most popular themes in our corpus MOOC:
– What can corpora tell us about learning a foreign language? (with Vaclav Brezina)
– A ‘battle’, a ‘journey’, or none of these? Metaphors for cancer (with Elena Semino)
– Wolves in the wires: online abuse from people to press (with Claire Hardaker)
– Words ‘yesterday and today’ (with Tony McEnery, Claire Dembry, and Robbie Love)
Though we pride ourselves on bringing interesting, accessible material to people on the go, what really brings these events to life is the interactions that we have with attendees. That’s why we invite you to log in and contribute to the discussions taking place after each presentation.
There are two ways to virtually attend.
First, via Google Hangout if you have a Google account. Sign up at https://plus.google.com/events/ca15afbicmmeiu6d25pn1qbverg and then log in from 17:15 GMT on 4 November to greet your fellow participants.
If you don’t have a Google account, you can watch us on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hF_fl95tiSk with no registration.
We’ll be taking questions from the Google Hangout and from the #corpusMOOC hashtag on Twitter (particularly for those viewing on YouTube) and mixing these in with questions from our live audience.
We hope that you can take advantage of this event by participating online.
* If you are available, located in the London area, and would like to attend in person, please visit our event website to register.
“Blurred Lines: The New Battle of the Sexes” looks at contemporary attitudes to women and whether expressions of sexism and misogyny are on the rise. Dr Claire Hardaker appears roughly halfway through, and discusses whether misogyny becomes increasingly extreme online. During the segment, Hardaker considers the case of Caroline Criado-Perez, and two of her trolls Isabella Sorley, and John Nimmo, as well as some early findings that have come out of the ESRC/CASS project on Twitter rape threats.
The documentary, which stars Kirsty Wark, will be broadcast on BBC2 on the 8th of May at 9:30pm.
Researching online abuse: the case of trolling. Arguably, the biggest technological advancement in recent times is the internet Sadly, however, the internet also presents new opportunities to act maliciously. Increasingly worrying are offensive behaviours such as trolling and cyberbullying that involve individuals, and sometime whole groups, harassing others, sometimes for no other reason than to entertain themselves. Yet research into this subject is in short supply in the social sciences, in spite of there being a real need for it.
New resources will be added regularly to the new CASS: Briefings tab above, so check back soon.
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…
- their concerns, interests, and ideologies; what concept do they seem to have of themselves and their role in society?
- their motivations and goals; what seems to trigger them? What do they seem to be seeking?
- 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.
Post-event review of the one-day workshop at Lancaster University
Topics don’t come much hotter than the forms of impoliteness or aggression that are associated with digital communication – flaming, trolling, cyberbullying, and so on. Yet academia has done surprisingly little to pull together experts in social interaction (especially (im)politeness) and experts in the new media, let alone experts in corpus-related work. That is, until last Friday, when the Corpus Approaches to Social Science Centre (@CorpusSocialSci) invited fifteen such people from diverse backgrounds (from law to psychology) gathered together for an intense one-day workshop.
The scope of the workshop was broad. One cannot very well study impoliteness without considering politeness, since merely failing to be polite in a particular context could be taken as impoliteness. Similarly, the range of digital communication types – email, blogs, texts, tweets and so on – presents a varied terrain to navigate. And then there are plenty of corpus-related approaches and notions, including collocation, keywords, word sketches, etc.
Andrew Kehoe (@ayjaykay), Ursula Lutzky (@UrsulaLutzky) and Matt Gee (@mattbgee) kicked off the day with a talk on swearwords and swearing, based on their 628-million-word Birmingham Blog Corpus. Amongst other things, they showed how internet swearword/profanity filters would work rather better if they incorporated notions like collocation. For example, knowing the words that typically accompany items like balls and tart can help disambiguate neutral usages (e.g. “tennis balls”, “lemon tart”) from less salubrious usages! (See more research from Andrew here, from Ursula here, and from Matt here.)
With Ruth Page’s (@ruthtweetpage) presentation, came a switch from blogs to Twitter. Using corpus-related techniques, Ruth revealed the characteristics of corporate tweets. Given that the word sorry turns out to be the seventh most characteristic or keyword for corporate tweets, it was not surprising that Ruth focused on apologies. She reveals that corporate tweets tend to avoid stating a problem or giving an explanation (thus avoiding damage to their reputation), but are accompanied by offers of repair and attempts to build – at least superficially – rapport. (See more research from Ruth here.)
Last of the morning was Caroline Tagg’s (@carotagg) presentation, and with this came another shift in medium, from Twitter to text messages. Focusing on convention and creativity, Caroline pointed out that, contrary to popular opinion, heavily abbreviated messages are not in fact the norm, and that when abbreviations do occur, they are often driven by communicative needs, e.g. using creativity to foster interest and engagement. Surveying the functions of texts, Caroline established that maintenance of friendship is key. And corpus-related techniques revealed the supporting evidence: politeness formulae were particularly frequent, including the salutation have a good one, the hedge a bit for the invitation, and for further contact, give us a bell. (See more research from Caroline here.)
With participants refuelled by lunch, Claire Hardaker (@DrClaireH) and I presented a smorgasbord of relevant issues. As an opening shot, we displayed frequencies showing that the stereotypical emblems of British politeness, words such as please, thank you, sorry, excuse me, can you X, tend not to be frequent in any digital media variety, relative to spoken conversation (as represented in the British National Corpus). Perhaps this accounts for why at least some sectors of the British public find digital media barren of politeness. This is not to say that politeness does not take place, but it seems to take place through different means – consider the list of politeness items derived by Caroline above. And there was an exception: sorry was the only item that occurred with greater frequency in some digital media. This, of course, nicely ties in with Ruth’s focus on apologies. The bulk of my and Clare’s presentation revolved around using corpus techniques to help establish: (1) definitions (e.g. what is trolling?), (2) strategies and formulae (e.g. what is the linguistic substance of trolling?) and (3) evaluations (e.g. what or who is considered rude?). Importantly, we showed that corpus-related approaches are not just lists of numbers, but can integrate qualitative analyses. (See more research from me here, and from Claire here.)
With encroaching presentation fatigue, the group decamped and went to at a computer lab. Paul Rayson (@perayson) introduced some corpus tools, notably WMatrix, of which he is the architect. Amanda Potts (@watchedpotts) then put everybody through their paces – gently of course! – giving everybody the opportunity of valuable hands-on experience.
Back in our discussion room and refreshed by various caffeinated beverages, we spent an hour reflecting on a range of issues. The conversation moved towards corpora that include annotations (interpretative information). Such annotations could be a way of helping to analyse images, context, etc., creating an incredibly rich dataset that could only be interrogated by computer (see here, for instance). I noted that this end of corpus work was not far removed from using Atlas or Nudist. Snapchat came up in discussion, not only because it involves images (though they can include text), but also because it raises issues of data accessibility (how do you get hold of a record of this communication, if one of its essential features is that it dissolves within a narrow timeframe?). The thorny problem of ethics was discussed (e.g. data being used in ways that were not signaled when original user agreements were completed).
Though exhausting, it was a hugely rewarding and enjoyable day. Often those rewards came in the form of vibrant contributions from each and every participant. Darren Reed, for example, pointed out that sometimes what we were dealing with is neither digital text nor digital image, but a digital act. Retweeting somebody, for example, could be taken as a “tweet act” with politeness implications.
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 ...
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.
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.
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 Punishment of Trolls Infringe on an Individual’s Freedom of Speech?” was prompted by the Director of Public Prosecution’s guidelines on prosecuting cases involving communications sent via social media. The discussion aimed to establish what can be done to better police, prevent, and punish trolling, and the panel of contributors included academics such as Dr Hardaker and Dr Thom Brookes (Reader in Law, Durham), Chief Constable Andy Trotter, Members of Parliament Nadine Dorries and Stella Creasey, and representatives from the Crown Prosecution Service and the Home Office.
Representing the victims of online abuse, Nadine Dorries and Stella Creasey gave examples of the types of trolling that they had experienced, and their struggle to have these cases dealt with by the police. In turn, Chief Constable Trotter explained from the perspective of the police the scale of resources required to investigate and prosecute every case of trolling. Dr Hardaker also explained the difficulties involved in establishing the identity of trolls, the ways in which trolls can operate individually or as organised groups, and how content that trolls produce is unlike face-to-face abuse, since it can be broadcast to an enormous audience very quickly, and proliferated across the internet such that it is almost impossible to eradicate. The panel further debated whether the term “trolling” itself was useful given its ill-defined nature, and whether current legislation, and the DPP’s interim guidelines on prosecuting cases involving communication sent via social media were suited to dealing with trolling. Whilst the panel did not always agree on the best answer to several of the points raised, one generally agreed upon point was that reactive responses to trolling, such as prosecution, were inadequate, and should be supported by proactive methods such as school-level education and early intervention.
The DPP’s final guidelines on prosecuting cases involving communications sent via social media have been published today and can be found here: http://www.cps.gov.uk/consultations/.