Posts from the social media service Twitter are providing researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison a new way to study bullying among kids. UW-Madison researchers Amy Bellmore and Jerry Zhu have been able to teach a computer to identify tweets about bullying among Twitter’s 250 million daily posts. The researchers said the computer was able to quickly identify more than 15,000 bullying-related tweets per day. Zhu said the 15,000 tweets are just those that survived the filter applied to publicly available tweets. “The number we have here is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

Once the computer identified bullying-related tweets, Bellmore and Zhu turned to sentiment analysis to capture the emotions in the tweets. The computer hones in on strong emotional words used in the tweets. The victims and witnesses in bullying incidents often expressed sadness or anger, Zhu said. The bullies themselves did not have many emotional posts, but when they did, Zhu said they would often be bragging. He added that cyber bullying was a smaller fraction of the results and there were more discussions of the aftermath of bullying in the physical world.

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