January 8, 2013
By: Isabella Jaye

From predicting epidemics to cutting down on crime, researchers are focused on turning Twitter, the second most popular social network, into a force for good.

Computer science experts at the University of Wisconsin at Madison have pioneered a way to use social networking to help identify incidences of bullying. They have found that while victims are often hesitant to report the harassment to school officials, both victims and the bullies themselves often turn to Twitter to discuss the incidents.

We are especially interested in how these experts are finding ways to harness the power of analytics to create a more socially-conscious tech landscape. The program’s algorithm is sophisticated enough not only to spot bullying-related tweets, but also to help pinpoint whether the tweet comes from the bully, the victim, or a passive bystander. It’s even been able to identify over-arching trends within the 15,000 harassment-related tweets it examines daily. For example, bullying tends to spike Mondays through Thursdays, and trail off on the weekends when students have less of an opportunity to interact. The hope is that the program will also be able to discern the tone of the tweet—and eventually help identify students who may be a danger to themselves or others.

How Technology is Being Used to Solve Pressing Social Issues

Bullying is a significant problem that too many students struggle with daily. We’ve talked about it on Reset, and anti-bullying advocates are doing their best to help those who are being harassed, but ultimately, it hasn’t been enough. Schools are still ignorant of the extent of the problem and many victims feel unable to reach out for help. In fact, reports indicate the 56% of students have been bullied at school—a statistic that skyrockets for LGBT students, with 90% reporting having experienced bullying.

Because simply identifying incidences of bullying isn’t enough, researchers hope that the program’s data will help to bolster the effectiveness of school anti-bullying policies.

This program, along with other socially-minded ones like it, are some of the most exciting recent developments in the technology world. By combining social consciousness with an innovative use of technology, researchers are hoping to be able to use social media to crowdsource effective solutions to some very real problems.

Whether it’s tracking the spread of infectious disease in Haiti or employing predictive analytics programs to more effectively stop crime here in the U.S., websites like Twitter and Facebook are becoming much more than just easy ways to connect with friends – they can also forge a path to the greater good.