Henry Lieberman, here, starting the AMA at 12:30pm EDT on Monday 11 March until 2:30pm. I had already answered a few questions, below.

I am studying online bullying behavior, along with my students Karthik Dinakar and Birago Jones. We are working on software that can detect bullying language and behavior. Here's a very short video I did recently with NowThisNews about our work: http://nowth.is/Y9GUH1. See also this article in The Atlantic, http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/03/how-to-stop-bullies/309217/

We hope that the outcome of our work will be to help educate kids about bullying, and to get everybody involved (bullies, victims, and bystanders) to reflect on their behavior. We hope this will help make every social networks a more welcoming and safe environment to interact.

Comments: 258 • Responses: 20  • Date: 

YouGeetBadJob45 karma

My oldest daughter is 9 now - and I'm not looking forward to the day she asks if she can have a social media page (facebook, google+, whatever) because of cyber bullying.

What precautions should I take when setting up such an account? What oversight or level of control should I insist on before setting one up?

HLieberman115 karma

First of all, don't fall prey to exaggerated fear. Many kids happily use social networks, and I think they're valuable in giving kids practice in social engagement, and not least, giving them a personally meaningful context for reading and writing. Don't flatly prohibit them. They're part of modern life. I would say, when she's ready, do it as an activity together with her. Use it as occasion to teach her positive ways of interacting. If she gets a hostile or suspicious message, teach her how to identify these and how to deal with them. When you're confident she can handle it on her own, relax the supervision. It's just like any other parent-child activity.

thepikey734 karma

Where I teach many of the older teachers say "Kids always do a better job at policing themselves then we can ever do."

Can you address this statement?

HLieberman40 karma

Yes, that's true. What's heartening to me is the courage of many kids who have started anti-bullying groups in their schools, gay-straight alliances, and other positive social movements. I don't consider that "policing", but just a way for kids to help set the direction of their own social groups. The message is stronger and more effective when it comes from kids themselves than from adults.

HLieberman31 karma

Henry Lieberman, signing off now, 3:30pm, Monday 11 March. Thanks for your comments and questions.



Salacious-27 karma

What are the biggest differences between "cyberbullying" and (for lack of a better word) "normal bullying" that takes place in school or in person, etc.?

HLieberman35 karma

Bullying has existed for hundreds of years. I don't think it's gotten worse, but the ubiquity of social networks and phones means that kids can't always get away from it. The upside is that social support, help, and education are also only a click away, and available 24/7 as well.

HLieberman15 karma

I had already answered a few questions in a prior session; see


and will take new questions here until 2:30pm, Mon 11 March 13.


acaelwarts0911 karma

I know you are investigating cyber bullying, but what about if it is happening on and off the web? My nephew is going through this right now, and the rules on how to handle it are so delicate. It's hard to get some justice.

HLieberman16 karma

I'm sorry to hear about your nephew. What we can do online is to provide education that explains to kids why it occurs, and to give them resources, help, and emotional support to cope with it when it does. Hopefully, this will change attitudes so that, ultimately, there will be less face-to-face bullying as well.

TwinHits10 karma

Thoughts on video games and violence?

HLieberman34 karma

I think violent video games do have a negative effect, but I do not support censorship. I think the key is to promote positive alternatives. I actually think the worst things on TV are not the violent cop shows (which many people can dissociate from reality), but the situation comedies and "reality" shows, where bullying and humor at the expense of others are shown as normal or positive.

imaginative24099 karma

What was the worst case of cyberbullying you had? How did it result?

HLieberman17 karma

I don't know if I can choose "worst cases". But by definition, the worst ones are the ones that result in suicide, and there are plenty of those reported by the media. I believe that most of these are preventable.

thombudsman6 karma

Has any part of your bullying research ever made you laugh?

HLieberman15 karma

Yes! Sometimes humor is a great way to deflect bullying, and we've seen kids be incredibly clever in their responses. Attempts at humor by bullies, in contrast, are mostly crude and unfunny.

HugsForUpvotes4 karma

How is Reddit in terms of cyber bullying?

HLieberman17 karma

It's like any other group. Mostly, I've gotten thoughtful and respectful questions and discussion. I've gotten a few hostile people, as you can see here, but I'll just ignore them.

Omis9153 karma

What approach are you taking to investigate cyber bullying? do you think that the bully is all at fault(saying that the bully is abused at home or something where bullying is an escape to some or joke to others)? do you think social media is doing enough to help stop cyber bullying?

HLieberman12 karma

For a short introduction, see the Atlantic article in my introduction. For technical readers, a journal article is here: http://www.media.mit.edu/~lieber/Publications/Bullying-TiiS.pdf

We're not interested in "blame", be it the perpetrator or society as a whole. We're interested in what we can do to either prevent the problem or mitigate its consequences.

I don't think social networks are doing enough right now. As our work shows, the software of the social network itself can help change people's attitudes and either help create a welcoming environment, or not.

Stanchion_Excelsior2 karma

1) As a parent how do I spot if my child is being the cyber bully/instigator?

2) How should parents teach children not to be cyber bullies?

3) How young is too young for social networks/the internet?

HLieberman3 karma

Good question. There are many good resources, online and off. See the site, stopbullying.gov. There are many good books, such as Emily Bazelon's "Sticks and Stones". I can't definitively state an age.

Mike_F2 karma

Over the course of your research have you gathered data on the significance that gender or race play with regards to "cyberbullying"? Also, what do you find to be the most common traits that victims of cyber bullying are singled out for? (sexual orientation, appearance, etc, etc) And would you say that these traits are unique to cyber bullying, or pretty similar to what victims of "traditional bullying" face?

HLieberman7 karma

We've found that the vast majority of bullying, cyber or not, is about the following subjects: sexuality, appearance, intelligence, racial and ethnic characteristics, social acceptance and rejection. Bullies tend to "pick on" those perceived to be vulnerable to such insults as a way of seeking status or power.

What's key is the "social norm" surrounding it. If friends join in the bullying, and the victim displays hurt, the bully wins. If the the victim preserves their dignity, bystanders defend the victim, and the bully's social status is diminished, the bully loses.

ttime0302 karma

How does the program react to someone saying something mean about themselves?

HLieberman4 karma

The goal of our program is to detect possible cases of cyberbullying, we can't make a definitive judgment about whether something is cyberbullying or not. There are many ways to "fool" the program. We just want to reach the level of confidence where it makes sense to offer the person some kind of help. If our judgment isn't correct, and the person doesn't really need the help, there's not much harm done.

UMDSmith2 karma

Are you simply using a keyword search, or is your program going to be able to identify tone and context of a message?

HLieberman6 karma

No, it's not just a keyword search. We're using some sophisticated machine learning, trying to identify the overall themes of the post, and a knowledge base specific to bullying. The full technical details are in:


amysweetone1 karma

Have you collaborated with helping professionals such as clinical social workers/psychologists? If so, how? If not, is this something you would like to explore? -Helping Professional in Training

HLieberman3 karma

We'd like to more, if we find the appropriate people. Sometimes I find books written by psychologists or educators on the topic to be somewhat vague or unhelpful. They give generic advice like, "tell an adult", which sometimes doesn't feel effective to kids actually in the situation. What's necessary is to be able to customize the advice to each kid's situation, and listen and respond to the kid's actual concerns. We're looking at ways to deliver personalized education appropriate to an individual situation.

svenser0 karma

I visited a middle school that just completed a "Not in Our School" week against bullying (and cyber-bullying). However, this school is in a very well-off neighborhood; of course there is probably some bullying there, but I would tend to think that (cyber)bullying is probably more observed in lower-income neighborhoods where kids can often get off the radar from parents and their adult support-network. Is it true that many of the policy changes that could help with (cyber)bullying will not be able to be implemented in lower-income schools/neighborhoods? How do you think any of this research can actually be applied where it is needed most?

HLieberman4 karma

I think issues are similar in both low-income and high-income neighborhoods, but obviously low-income places are affected by many pressures that make things worse, including less adult support. I recommend the research of Prof. Desmond Patton at the University of Michigan who has studied cyberbullying in low-income groups. Fortunately, some of the possible fixes, including online measures, can apply equally in low- and high- income groups.

oitoo-3 karma

Can you find the person who bullied Amanda Todd? Once you find him, what can be done?

HLieberman8 karma

I can't address individual cases. We are working on the design of social network software to help prevent cyberbullying and mitigate the consequences when it does occur.

gizmouth-4 karma

I heard once that people like you have access to the whole internet (in exemple that you can see anything on my facebook even if i chose to prevent people to see it). Is it true?

HLieberman8 karma


jiggle-o-4 karma

kids have bullied others since civilization started; do you really feel this warrants research? i mean if the kids don't want to be bullied more, just turn your damned computer off or go to another website. people aren't nice to you on Facebook; block them. It's not a hard concept.

Seriously, I grew up in a time where if you got into a school fight, you usually ended up as friends after. I don't see the big reason for whining about it now.

HLieberman32 karma

Yes, I do feel this warrants research. The negative social consequences of bullying have now, as a result of research, been conclusively identified. Kids who are bullied (or who bully) do worse in school, have poorer health outcomes, and many other real consequences for our society. It needs to be addressed. Bullying is not "inevitable", or "normal" and anti-bullying efforts are not "whining".

I'm an old guy too, and I remember when attitudes were as you say. Attitudes are now changing, thankfully. If you survived bullying, congratulations. Many others weren't so lucky. Don't wish your misfortunes on others.