skip to main content

Title: Understanding the Digital Lives of Youth: Analyzing Media Shared within Safe Versus Unsafe Private Conversations on Instagram
We collected Instagram Direct Messages (DMs) from 100 adolescents and young adults (ages 13-21) who then flagged their own conversations as safe or unsafe. We performed a mixed-method analysis of the media files shared privately in these conversations to gain human-centered insights into the risky interactions experienced by youth. Unsafe conversations ranged from unwanted sexual solicitations to mental health related concerns, and images shared in unsafe conversations tended to be of people and convey negative emotions, while those shared in regular conversations more often conveyed positive emotions and contained objects. Further, unsafe conversations were significantly shorter, suggesting that youth disengaged when they felt unsafe. Our work uncovers salient characteristics of safe and unsafe media shared in private conversations and provides the foundation to develop automated systems for online risk detection and mitigation.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
1827700 1844881 2333207
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Proceedings of the 2022 ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2022)
Page Range / eLocation ID:
1 to 14
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. We collected Instagram data from 150 adolescents (ages 13-21) that included 15,547 private message conversations of which 326 conversations were flagged as sexually risky by participants. Based on this data, we leveraged a human-centered machine learning approach to create sexual risk detection classifiers for youth social media conversations. Our Convolutional Neural Network (CNN) and Random Forest models outperformed in identifying sexual risks at the conversation-level (AUC=0.88), and CNN outperformed at the message-level (AUC=0.85). We also trained classifiers to detect the severity risk level (i.e., safe, low, medium-high) of a given message with CNN outperforming other models (AUC=0.88). A feature analysis yielded deeper insights into patterns found within sexually safe versus unsafe conversations. We found that contextual features (e.g., age, gender, and relationship type) and Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) contributed the most for accurately detecting sexual conversations that made youth feel uncomfortable or unsafe. Our analysis provides insights into the important factors and contextual features that enhance automated detection of sexual risks within youths' private conversations. As such, we make valuable contributions to the computational risk detection and adolescent online safety literature through our human-centered approach of collecting and ground truth coding private social media conversations of youth for the purpose of risk classification. 
    more » « less
  2. Instagram, one of the most popular social media platforms among youth, has recently come under scrutiny for potentially being harmful to the safety and well-being of our younger generations. Automated approaches for risk detection may be one way to help mitigate some of these risks if such algorithms are both accurate and contextual to the types of online harms youth face on social media platforms. However, the imminent switch by Instagram to end-to-end encryption for private conversations will limit the type of data that will be available to the platform to detect and mitigate such risks. In this paper, we investigate which indicators are most helpful in automatically detecting risk in Instagram private conversations, with an eye on high-level metadata, which will still be available in the scenario of end-to-end encryption. Toward this end, we collected Instagram data from 172 youth (ages 13-21) and asked them to identify private message conversations that made them feel uncomfortable or unsafe. Our participants risk-flagged 28,725 conversations that contained 4,181,970 direct messages, including textual posts and images. Based on this rich and multimodal dataset, we tested multiple feature sets (metadata, linguistic cues, and image features) and trained classifiers to detect risky conversations. Overall, we found that the metadata features (e.g., conversation length, a proxy for participant engagement) were the best predictors of risky conversations. However, for distinguishing between risk types, the different linguistic and media cues were the best predictors. Based on our findings, we provide design implications for AI risk detection systems in the presence of end-to-end encryption. More broadly, our work contributes to the literature on adolescent online safety by moving toward more robust solutions for risk detection that directly takes into account the lived risk experiences of youth. 
    more » « less
  3. As part of a Youth Advisory Board of teens (YAB), a longitudinal and interactive program to engage with teens for adolescent online safety research, we used an Asynchronous Remote Community (ARC) method with seven teens to explore their social media usage and perspectives on privacy on social media. There was a spectrum of privacy levels in our teen participants’ preferred social media platforms and preferences varied depending on their user goals such as content viewing and socializing. They recognized privacy risks they could encounter on social media, hence, actively used privacy features afforded by platforms to stay safe while meeting their goals. In addition, our teen participants designed solutions that can aid users to exercise more granular control over determining what information on their accounts is to be shared with which groups of users. Our findings highlight the need to ensure researchers and social media developers work with teens to provide teen-centric solutions for safer experiences on social media. 
    more » « less
  4. Introduction Social media has created opportunities for children to gather social support online (Blackwell et al., 2016; Gonzales, 2017; Jackson, Bailey, & Foucault Welles, 2018; Khasawneh, Rogers, Bertrand, Madathil, & Gramopadhye, 2019; Ponathil, Agnisarman, Khasawneh, Narasimha, & Madathil, 2017). However, social media also has the potential to expose children and adolescents to undesirable behaviors. Research showed that social media can be used to harass, discriminate (Fritz & Gonzales, 2018), dox (Wood, Rose, & Thompson, 2018), and socially disenfranchise children (Page, Wisniewski, Knijnenburg, & Namara, 2018). Other research proposes that social media use might be correlated to the significant increase in suicide rates and depressive symptoms among children and adolescents in the past ten years (Mitchell, Wells, Priebe, & Ybarra, 2014). Evidence based research suggests that suicidal and unwanted behaviors can be promulgated through social contagion effects, which model, normalize, and reinforce self-harming behavior (Hilton, 2017). These harmful behaviors and social contagion effects may occur more frequently through repetitive exposure and modelling via social media, especially when such content goes “viral” (Hilton, 2017). One example of viral self-harming behavior that has generated significant media attention is the Blue Whale Challenge (BWC). The hearsay about this challenge is that individuals at all ages are persuaded to participate in self-harm and eventually kill themselves (Mukhra, Baryah, Krishan, & Kanchan, 2017). Research is needed specifically concerning BWC ethical concerns, the effects the game may have on teenagers, and potential governmental interventions. To address this gap in the literature, the current study uses qualitative and content analysis research techniques to illustrate the risk of self-harm and suicide contagion through the portrayal of BWC on YouTube and Twitter Posts. The purpose of this study is to analyze the portrayal of BWC on YouTube and Twitter in order to identify the themes that are presented on YouTube and Twitter posts that share and discuss BWC. In addition, we want to explore to what extent are YouTube videos compliant with safe and effective suicide messaging guidelines proposed by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC). Method Two social media websites were used to gather the data: 60 videos and 1,112 comments from YouTube and 150 posts from Twitter. The common themes of the YouTube videos, comments on those videos, and the Twitter posts were identified using grounded, thematic content analysis on the collected data (Padgett, 2001). Three codebooks were built, one for each type of data. The data for each site were analyzed, and the common themes were identified. A deductive coding analysis was conducted on the YouTube videos based on the nine SPRC safe and effective messaging guidelines (Suicide Prevention Resource Center, 2006). The analysis explored the number of videos that violated these guidelines and which guidelines were violated the most. The inter-rater reliabilities between the coders ranged from 0.61 – 0.81 based on Cohen’s kappa. Then the coders conducted consensus coding. Results & Findings Three common themes were identified among all the posts in the three social media platforms included in this study. The first theme included posts where social media users were trying to raise awareness and warning parents about this dangerous phenomenon in order to reduce the risk of any potential participation in BWC. This was the most common theme in the videos and posts. Additionally, the posts claimed that there are more than 100 people who have played BWC worldwide and provided detailed description of what each individual did while playing the game. These videos also described the tasks and different names of the game. Only few videos provided recommendations to teenagers who might be playing or thinking of playing the game and fewer videos mentioned that the provided statistics were not confirmed by reliable sources. The second theme included posts of people that either criticized the teenagers who participated in BWC or made fun of them for a couple of reasons: they agreed with the purpose of BWC of “cleaning the society of people with mental issues,” or they misunderstood why teenagers participate in these kind of challenges, such as thinking they mainly participate due to peer pressure or to “show off”. The last theme we identified was that most of these users tend to speak in detail about someone who already participated in BWC. These videos and posts provided information about their demographics and interviews with their parents or acquaintances, who also provide more details about the participant’s personal life. The evaluation of the videos based on the SPRC safe messaging guidelines showed that 37% of the YouTube videos met fewer than 3 of the 9 safe messaging guidelines. Around 50% of them met only 4 to 6 of the guidelines, while the remaining 13% met 7 or more of the guidelines. Discussion This study is the first to systematically investigate the quality, portrayal, and reach of BWC on social media. Based on our findings from the emerging themes and the evaluation of the SPRC safe messaging guidelines we suggest that these videos could contribute to the spread of these deadly challenges (or suicide in general since the game might be a hoax) instead of raising awareness. Our suggestion is parallel with similar studies conducted on the portrait of suicide in traditional media (Fekete & Macsai, 1990; Fekete & Schmidtke, 1995). Most posts on social media romanticized people who have died by following this challenge, and younger vulnerable teens may see the victims as role models, leading them to end their lives in the same way (Fekete & Schmidtke, 1995). The videos presented statistics about the number of suicides believed to be related to this challenge in a way that made suicide seem common (Cialdini, 2003). In addition, the videos presented extensive personal information about the people who have died by suicide while playing the BWC. These videos also provided detailed descriptions of the final task, including pictures of self-harm, material that may encourage vulnerable teens to consider ending their lives and provide them with methods on how to do so (Fekete & Macsai, 1990). On the other hand, these videos both failed to emphasize prevention by highlighting effective treatments for mental health problems and failed to encourage teenagers with mental health problems to seek help and providing information on where to find it. YouTube and Twitter are capable of influencing a large number of teenagers (Khasawneh, Ponathil, Firat Ozkan, & Chalil Madathil, 2018; Pater & Mynatt, 2017). We suggest that it is urgent to monitor social media posts related to BWC and similar self-harm challenges (e.g., the Momo Challenge). Additionally, the SPRC should properly educate social media users, particularly those with more influence (e.g., celebrities) on elements that boost negative contagion effects. While the veracity of these challenges is doubted by some, posting about the challenges in unsafe manners can contribute to contagion regardless of the challlenges’ true nature. 
    more » « less
  5. We extend the learning from demonstration paradigm by providing a method for learning unknown constraints shared across tasks, using demonstrations of the tasks, their cost functions, and knowledge of the system dynamics and control constraints. Given safe demonstrations, our method uses hit-and-run sampling to obtain lower cost, and thus unsafe, trajectories. Both safe and unsafe trajectories are used to obtain a consistent representation of the unsafe set via solving an integer program. Our method generalizes across system dynamics and learns a guaranteed subset of the constraint. In addition, by leveraging a known parameterization of the constraint, we modify our method to learn parametric constraints in high dimensions. We also provide theoretical analysis on what subset of the constraint and safe set can be learnable from safe demonstrations. We demonstrate our method on linear and nonlinear system dynamics, show that it can be modified to work with suboptimal demonstrations, and that it can also be used to learn constraints in a feature space. 
    more » « less