Understanding "Bad Actors" Online

Saturday, April 21, 2018 • Montréal, Canada

Call for Participation


Despite a large body of research exploring online misbehavior and community moderation, harassment and other forms of abuse remain a persistent problem in online communities today. A 2017 Pew survey revealed that 66% of adult internet users have seen someone be harassed online, and 41% have personally experienced online harassment, including being called offensive names, being purposefully embarrassed or physically threatened, or being stalked or sexually harassed. Although perpetrators of online harassment are often treated as fringe cases, harassing behaviors occur with alarming frequency online. In order to discourage harassment in online spaces, we must first understand why everyday internet users participate in abusive behaviors online.


Social media platforms typically seek to diminish bad behavior by restricting perpetrators’ access, imposing strong penalties, or outright disabling accounts. But who are “bad actors?” Do they understand community standards, or even which policies their actions have violated? How do they participate in other social media sites and online communities? What values and experiences shape their interactions online? By listening to the experiences and needs of policy violators, we can 1) identify the roadblocks that prevent “bad actors” from complying with community standards; 2) help them discover more appropriate ways of connecting with others online; and 3) design more effective interventions to reduce the impact of these behaviors on other users.


We are hosting a one-day workshop at CHI 2018 focused on understanding the experiences, perspectives, and motivations of people who engage in bad behavior online—including harassment, hate speech, and spam—to generate research and design strategies for prevention, punishment, and remediation. We invite submissions from academic researchers, industry practitioners, and social activists interested in any of the following themes:


Social norms and deviance. When and why people misbehave, and how to encourage pro-social behaviors online.


What is the impact of global social media, where wildly divergent social norms collide in a single online context?


Why people follow some policies but not others; qualities of effective policies and policy enforcement.


What types of sanctions reduce misbehavior, both online and off. How to implement graduated and strategic sanctions for different types of actors.


Designing effective and intuitive platforms. Using design to communicate policies, standards, and sanctions.


The ongoing consideration of different forms of discrimination when designing and moderating online platforms.



Lindsay Blackwell is a PhD candidate in the School of Information at the University of Michigan. Her research focuses on why people participate in abusive behaviors online, including when online harassment is perceived as justified or deserved. Her dissertation will examine the social motivations and technological affordances that facilitate online abuse.


Mark Handel is a User Experience Research Manager at Facebook. His research area focuses on creating a better experience for users of Facebook, both for people who encounter bad behavior online as well as those who create, intentionally or not, those bad experiences.


Sarah T. Roberts is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Information Studies, UCLA. Prior to joining UCLA, she was an Assistant Professor (2013-2016) in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at Western University in London, Ontario. Her research interests focus on information work and workers, with particular emphasis on a digital labor practice called ‘Commercial Content Moderation,’ a term she coined.


Amy Bruckman is a Professor in the School of Interactive Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Her research focuses on social computing, with interests in online collaboration, social movements, online moderation and the balance between free speech and harassment. Bruckman received her Ph.D. from the MIT Media Lab and her bachelor’s degree from Harvard University.

How to Apply


Please submit a 2-4 page position paper using the CHI Extended Abstracts Format. Your submission should take a strong position related to online misbehavior, supported by empirical or theoretical research in HCI and other relevant fields (e.g., psychology, sociology, criminal justice). Who are “bad actors” online? What types of sanctions should or could be enforced? How might current policies or platform designs be improved?


Position papers should also include:

    • A short description of your professional experience with online communities or social media sites, to demonstrate your interest in and engagement with this research space;
    • A short description of your personal experience with online communities or social media sites, to demonstrate empathy for research subjects;
    • Any other experiences relevant to your participation in this workshop (e.g., design, policy-writing, or legal expertise).

Apply to understanding.bad.actors@gmail.com by February 2, 2018. Applicants will be notified of their acceptance decision on or before February 22, 2018. At least one author of each accepted submission is required to register for and attend the workshop (April 21, 2018, in Montréal, Canada).


Apply by February 2, 2018