Scottish scientists are working on algorithms to banish cyber trolls

Scientists in Scotland are working on creating new computer algorithms aimed at curtailing cyberbullying, online trolling and abuse.

Researchers at the National Robotarium, which involves Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh, are working on using advanced ‘machine learning’ algorithms to significantly improve the detection of online abuse.

The project, which has been awarded £1 million funding from UK Research and Innovation, will use sophisticated artificial intelligence (AI) tools to quickly find and block problematic users and accounts.

In addition, the work will include the development of new educational material to help young people recognise online gender-based violence and become more confident responding to it.

Verena Rieser, professor of conversational AI at the National Robotarium, said: ‘Outcomes from the project will help create online spaces that are equally safe irrespective of someone’s gender, race or background,’

‘It will also provide more effective and transparent means of moderation, giving users more control over their online experiences.’

Dr Fiona McNeill, reader in computer science education at the National Robotarium said that the project ‘will be working with young people to understand their experiences of online abuse’ as online abuse can be a huge problem for children and teenagers.

She said the researchers would particularly focus on gender- based abuse and bullying.

‘Through this interactive work, we will create educational materials that help young people understand and recognise online gender-based violence, to gain confidence in responding to it, either as a victim or a bystander, and to recognise if they are perpetrating it,’ said Dr McNeill.

The Scottish and UK governments have both welcomed the work being done by researchers.

‘For too long, online platforms have enabled the most vile forms of targeted abuse with almost no consequences for perpetrators, and minimal support and protection for victims,’ said Scottish office minister Iain Stewart.

He hoped that this research into new AI algorithms would deliver a valuable tool in fighting back against online abuse and creating safer online environments.

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