I decided to explore the problem space of internet harassment via private messages. The idea was born out of unfortunate necessity. Internet harassment is very real and is a digital extension of what women and people of all genders face daily in person.
I needed to understand the spectrum of problems that people report as online harassment and figure out how to turn the chatbot into a useful tool to combat those issues.
At the moment, unless you block or report a user on Facebook, there is not much else you can do to ensure a safe dismissal of the harasser on the other end. People need to protect themselves from internet harassment.
After exploring other chatbots, I wondered to myself, “If AI can carry a conversation with us, why don’t we use it to talk to other people?”
With my product in mind, I prototyped a version of Nastybot that is live on Facebook:
Nastybot has answers for all sorts of scenarios when unsavory characters send unwelcome messages to your inbox. Keep her in your toolbelt next time someone harasses you online and thwart creepy messages.
How do we get Nastybot to be helpful when a user is being harassed?
We must address the needs of the kind of user that would use Nastybot in the first place.
Who is the user, and what are they are feeling during their interaction with this chatbot?
Pew Research Center has identified that 73% of adult internet users have seen someone be harassed in some way online and 40% have personally experienced it.
In observing online communities, in one example of an online support group for victims of online harassment, Reddit community CreepyPMs has over 300,000 subscribers sharing and discussing their experiences.
A typical 'hot' post on 'CreepyPMs' has several comments and reactions. In learning about these users and their experiences they shared.
Simply identifying as a woman online has the potential to lead to harassment. Even in the video-gaming community, women hide under gender neutral avatars and names to prevent being harassed.
Commonalities were found amongst victims, which were then distilled into user needs.
I found that users are looking for a quick way to do one of three activities when dealing with online harassers:
Another discovery was that that the user's state of emotional being can be a wide spectrum, from distressed and scared, to amused by harassers.
Constructing a user journey with a chatbot involves not only understanding the user's state of being and possible steps, but also mapping potential answers and scenarios the chatbot must address.
Branching out directions and topics for a variety of chat scenarios helped ideate potential conversation flows for Nastybot.
Through user testing, I was able to understand what kind of inquiries and phrasings come organically to users and add them to my list of conversation points.
I am continually making modifications and improvements to Nastybot in realtime. I am looking to make versions of Nastybot as chatbot capabilities improve and allow me to iterate closer to the 'ideal' version of this chatbot.
I received feedback from my peers to mentors on making improvements on this project and the feedback I received for Nastybot was overwhelmingly positive.
During the brainstorming phase, I found that there was a gap between ultimate goal of the chatbot as well as the minimum viable product. I had to figure out how to create a product closest to my vision while still serving the needs of the user I had in mind.
Currently, with Facebook’s chatbot limitations, Nastybot can only be used to give you advice and phrases you can use to navigate your unsavory conversations with other Facebook users.
I found that we can use the minimum viable product (i.e Nastybot 1.0) to help users navigate a lot of the advice found on Facebook’s Help Center. That area of Facebook's help section is a large and intimidating wall of text that is not a one-size-fits-all solution to every messaging harassment scenario.
I also found that you cannot ‘sic’ chatbots on other people, as in, you cannot send a bot to speak to others in your stead.
Born out of a passion for fighting injustices faced by women online, I am happy that I created a tool that is not only functional, but addressing a very real issue in a brand new way. As a creator I will continue to concept for and solve real-world problems.