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IIT Roorkee alumnus develops algorithm to fight against online harassment

September 22, 2020

Online harassment and domestic violence against women have increased during the Covid-19 lockdown as people are spending more time on the internet. According to a survey by Web Foundation, about 52 percent of young women and girls admitted that they experienced online abuse, including threatening messages, sexual harassment and the sharing of private images without consent. In an endeavour to make online space safer for women, a machine learning expert and an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Roorkee developed an algorithm that identifies and reports misogynistic posts on social media platforms.

Richi Nayak, who researched on the same is a computer science professor at Queensland University of Technology, Australia. She demonstrated the use of STEM knowledge to address societal issues and her endeavour towards making lives brighter for women. She had been exploring to leverage her expertise in machine learning to solve a social issue and realised that detecting abusive content targeted on women will make online space safer for them.

Nayak, along with her colleague Md Abdul Bashar developed an algorithm that has been trained to understand content, context and intent behind social media posts. She said, “I have always been interested in mathematics at a young age. I would like to thank my late supervisor, Prof. J. D. Sharma, for introducing me to the field of Machine Learning during the post-graduation at IIT Roorkee.”

She added, “I was also fortunate to receive guidance and mentorship under IIT Roorkee’s expert academicians including the late Prof G C Nayak, Prof. C. Mohan and Prof J. L. Gaindhar. It was instrumental in motivating me to take up a career in research to address societal issues.”

Her research focuses on the training of models with datasets like Wikipedia and subsequently training it in somewhat abusive language through user review data. It also trained the model on a large dataset of tweets.

Besides equipping it with linguistic capability, the researchers taught it to distinguish between misogynistic and non-misogynistic tweets. Her research marks a paradigm shift from users reporting suspected cases of harassment to automatically detecting and reporting abusive content on social media.

“I am delighted that technology co-developed by an IITR alumnus can be used to automatically flag harassment of women on social media. I hope the detection of such instances will induce corrective behavioural changes towards the way social media is being used as well as towards women,” said Prof. Ajit K Chaturvedi, Director, IIT Roorkee.

Source: India Today

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