Thomas Davidson


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COBRA Frames: Contextual Reasoning about Effects and Harms of Offensive Statements
Xuhui Zhou | Hao Zhu | Akhila Yerukola | Thomas Davidson | Jena D. Hwang | Swabha Swayamdipta | Maarten Sap
Findings of the Association for Computational Linguistics: ACL 2023

Warning: This paper contains content that may be offensive or upsetting. Understanding the harms and offensiveness of statements requires reasoning about the social and situational context in which statements are made. For example, the utterance “your English is very good” may implicitly signal an insult when uttered by a white man to a non-white colleague, but uttered by an ESL teacher to their student would be interpreted as a genuine compliment. Such contextual factors have been largely ignored by previous approaches to toxic language detection. We introduce COBRA frames, the first context-aware formalism for explaining the intents, reactions, and harms of offensive or biased statements grounded in their social and situational context. We create COBRACORPUS, a dataset of 33k potentially offensive statements paired with machine-generated contexts and free-text explanations of offensiveness, implied biases, speaker intents, and listener reactions. To study the contextual dynamics of offensiveness, we train models to generate COBRA explanations, with and without access to the context. We find that explanations by context-agnostic models are significantly worse than by context-aware ones, especially in situations where the context inverts the statement’s offensiveness (29% accuracy drop). Our work highlights the importance and feasibility of contextualized NLP by modeling social factors.


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Racial Bias in Hate Speech and Abusive Language Detection Datasets
Thomas Davidson | Debasmita Bhattacharya | Ingmar Weber
Proceedings of the Third Workshop on Abusive Language Online

Technologies for abusive language detection are being developed and applied with little consideration of their potential biases. We examine racial bias in five different sets of Twitter data annotated for hate speech and abusive language. We train classifiers on these datasets and compare the predictions of these classifiers on tweets written in African-American English with those written in Standard American English. The results show evidence of systematic racial bias in all datasets, as classifiers trained on them tend to predict that tweets written in African-American English are abusive at substantially higher rates. If these abusive language detection systems are used in the field they will therefore have a disproportionate negative impact on African-American social media users. Consequently, these systems may discriminate against the groups who are often the targets of the abuse we are trying to detect.


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Understanding Abuse: A Typology of Abusive Language Detection Subtasks
Zeerak Waseem | Thomas Davidson | Dana Warmsley | Ingmar Weber
Proceedings of the First Workshop on Abusive Language Online

As the body of research on abusive language detection and analysis grows, there is a need for critical consideration of the relationships between different subtasks that have been grouped under this label. Based on work on hate speech, cyberbullying, and online abuse we propose a typology that captures central similarities and differences between subtasks and discuss the implications of this for data annotation and feature construction. We emphasize the practical actions that can be taken by researchers to best approach their abusive language detection subtask of interest.