Applied computing junior Lisa Tsosie said she doesn’t like watching the news, as cyberbullying-related teen suicide epidemics are too depressing to follow.
Instead of just continuing to block out the news, Tsosie decided to try to change the statistics and began working on her cyberbullying detection program.
One year later, she was awarded the prestigious Google Women of Color scholarship for her work in developing the project, called “Facebully: Towards the Identification of Cyberbullying in Facebook.”
This week, Tsosie traveled to Minneapolis to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference to present the program to the computer science community.
“(I like) the positive change it would bring,” she said. “We’re making it for a good cause.”
Tsosie’s project was a collaboration with ASU professor Yasin Silva, who also attended the conference. Facebully presents a way for parents to monitor their children’s online well-being and alerts them if their kids are a victim of cyberbullying on Facebook.
It works by extracting information from individuals’ Facebook profiles, after being granted permission, to then be analyzed for signs of cyberbullying, including hurtful comments, embarrassing photos and other methods of online harassment.
Tsosie said the program uses a combination of computer science coupled with psychology research to gauge at-risk groups who have been proven to be the most emotionally vulnerable when faced with online harassment. These include “tween” girls, children who have recently moved and individuals with disabilities.
The program then combines all these factors and plugs them into a uniform equation to form a bullying rank, ranging from 0-59, signifying how well they fit the definition of someone who is being victimized by cyberbullying. This number is sent to the parents.
Silva originated the idea for the project and then approached Tsosie, who was a sophomore at the time, to be a part of its creation.
“With that said, Lisa has participated in this project from the very beginning and has had a key role on each stage of the project, (including) analysis, design and implementation,” he said.
Tsosie said that although Facebully doesn’t prevent cyberbullying from taking place, it can alert parents to their child’s situation and prevent the suicides that have become a trend in the digital world as a result of virtual intimidation.
“That’s why I like it … even though it’s difficult,” she said.
Tsosie said she found inspiration in her family as well as other female computer scientists, particularly ASU professor Suzanne Dietrich.
“(Dietrich) pushed me to succeed,” she said. “I see her all the time, and I see the influence that she has on others, and she displays such strong leadership to those around her. I hope I can be like that in the future.”
Tsosie, who had never taken a computer science class before college, said she never knew computers would become her passion.
“(When I was younger), I wanted to be a nurse, until I found out I got squeamish at other people’s blood!” she said.
Tsosie also said she never saw herself as career-oriented before coming to ASU and thought she would just be a stay-at-home mom until she discovered her love of computers.
She said despite the work-intensive nature of her applied computing major, she enjoys the work, especially when it allows her to solve social problems in the field with projects such as Facebully.
ASU alumnus Jason Reed, a friend and colleague of Tsosie’s in several research projects including Facebully, said she is kindhearted and humble.
“She has really stepped up to the challenge presented to her and helped us to move the project forward,” he said. “While the learning curve on what we are working on is steep … she has has been able to learn and take part in a research project dealing with topics that would normally be reserved for people with their Ph.D.s.”
Reed said he believes Tsosie hasn’t yet reached her full potential, nor does she realize how much she contributes already. He said she will continue to grow and expand her knowledge and computing abilities with each project she completes.
Tsosie said after graduating from ASU, she plans to look for a graduate school that will provide opportunities for female computer scientists, especially those of ethnic minorities. Tsosie’s heritage is Navajo and Romanian.
Tsosie said she believes undergraduate students are capable of achieving high-level research goals and that there is no need to wait for graduate work before beginning to make an impact with these projects.
“It’s narrow-minded to think that somebody with a degree already has more authority (to make change),” she said.
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