Online harassment: Justifiable when deserved?


A new study has shown that people feel online harassment is deserved when the person commits an offense, even though the common consensus is that on principle, harassing is not appropriate. U-M researchers at the School of Information discovered that bystander intervention could change this perception.

These researchers recruited participants from Twitter and Amazon Mechanical Turk and conducted an experiment, posing three situations that would have been posted on Twitter. The participants were shown positive and negative comments and asked what they would be influenced by. One of the facts discovered with this study was that the participants’ opinions could be influenced when a bystander stepped in.  

Lindsay Blackwell, first author of the study and a doctoral student in the U-M School of Information commented on the results of the study and the steps that will be taken to mitigate this form of online harassment. “Now that we know that retribution plays a role in this form of social sanctioning, we can look toward designing platforms that encourage alternative forms of justice-seeking.”

Author: Samantha DeRosia, ITS Communications

Samantha is an intern for the ITS Communications team. You can reach her at