How to Use Technology to #EndCyberbullying

cyberbullying, students, school, technology

Bullying is not a new phenomenon, but the recent proliferation of social media harassment merits its own name. Cyberbullying is unique in that aggressors can be safely situated behind a screen in their own homes, while victims are subject to its effects at school, at home, and everywhere in between. It is pervasive and relentless, as what is posted online can resurface anytime.

Although cyberbullying is a direct result of increased device usage, we can use technology to our advantage to prevent, detect, and act against cyberbullying.

Prevent

Common Sense Media introduced Common Sense Education’s K-12 Digital Citizenship Curriculum to help educators and school administrators teach proper online behavior, digital citizenship best practices, and educate students on the consequences of cyberbullying. The curriculum includes eight modules ranging from Privacy & Security to Cyberbullying & Digital Drama to Self-Image & Identity.

They have created engaging online student interactive games – “digital games to tackle real-world dilemmas” – for grades 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12 to instill good technology habits. This toolkit is free and available to everyone online via Downloadable PDFs, Nearpod, and iBooks.

ReThink Words, created by student Trisha Prabhu, is a patent-pending software that 1) uses context-sensitive filtering technology to determine if a post may be harmful and 2) asks the user to reconsider posting the potentially damaging message. Research shows that 93% of the time, students do not follow through with the post after being asked to ReThink.

Detect

Our own sentiment-analysis based technology – Auditor by Securly uses Natural Language Processing & Artificial Intelligence algorithms to detect any signs of harassment or self-harm in Gmail. Through Delegated Administration, we then directly alert school guidance counselors and principals of suspicious student online activity. Parents are notified ASAP with email reports and through the Parent Portal.

This technology serves a dual-purpose: eliminating bullying and intervening in self-harm/suicide cases. The two facets are related by a causal relationship termed “Cyberbullicide” by the American Public Health Association. Mark Nelson, IT Admin of Romeo Community Schools, remarks, “Of the many features distinguish Securly, none are so important as Sentiment Analysis.  We have contacted school counselors four times to make them aware of alarming posts by teenagers, so they could intervene with students and parents.  The avoidance of a single tragedy with one of our students makes Sentiment Analysis invaluable.”

Act

Using STOPit!, students can anonymously report cyberbullying in real-time – empowering them to stand up for themselves and their peers. Students can send photos, videos, or screenshots as evidence of cyberbullying through two-way anonymous messaging to school administration. The app also includes access to a 24-hour crisis center.

In India, a new anti-cyberbullying initiative revolves around a single hashtag: #IamTrolledHelp. This policy allows victims of cyberbullying to use this hashtag or send an email reporting cases of online harassment; the government then investigates each case. The Minister of Women and Child Development, Maneka Gandhi, started this new protocol in response to the climbing cyberbullying rates aimed at women and children. For example, singer Chinmayi Sripaada was bombarded with threats of rape and violence – her case led to India’s first arrests for cyberbullying.

U.S.-based Taruna Aswani used Facebook to out her international blackmailer, publicly posting screenshots of emails she received that threatened to leak nudes and intimate content if she did not perform sexual acts for him. She is now working with the cyber crime deputy commissioner to track down the hacker, and has received hundreds of messages from other girls thanking her for inspiring them to speak out against their bullies.

Get involved during National Cyberbullying Prevention Month and join the movement to #EndBullying today! To find out more information on bullying prevention, check out the following resources:

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Freedom of Speech = Freedom to Bully?

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In 2014, Michele Carter told Conrad Roy to reenter a carbon-monoxide-filled car and proceed with his suicide attempt. She was charged with involuntary manslaughter as text messages surfaced, ones sent by her encouraging Roy to end his own life.

Her defense claimed that the texts were a form of free speech, protected by the First Amendment: “…verbal conduct can never overcome a person’s willpower to live, and therefore cannot be the cause of suicide…”

The court ruled against her favor, yet a broader debate surrounding Freedom of Speech and its implications for state cyberbullying laws remains unresolved. In compliance with the Child Internet Protection Act, various states have proposed making cyberbullying a criminal offense in order to prevent cyberbullying in school. However, some argue that this infringes upon a student’s First Amendment right, especially if the bullying occurs off-campus during non-school hours.

This past June, the North Carolina Supreme Court repealed its 2009-enacted cyberbullying law after reopening the case of a formerly convicted high school student. The court decided that the law –one prohibiting the use of computers to post (or maliciously encourage others to post) compromising information online– was too broad and violated the Freedom of Speech. Courts are now using a “disruption test” to assess the magnitude of cyberbullying accusations, measuring the extent that a student’s actions impacted the school environment.


“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Essentially, lawmakers are struggling to identify 1) when “free speech” becomes a threat to someone else’s life and 2) at what point can lawful action be taken. Texas Senator José Menéndez proposed new legislation called “David’s Law”, named after a victim of cyberbullying who later committed suicide. Menéndez claims cyberbullying is distinct from free speech and therefore should be criminalized, citing, “The Supreme Court has ruled our right to free speech is regulated by boundaries. You can’t yell ‘fire’ in a crowded theater… can’t make threats against someone’s life and defend it as free speech.”

17 states have criminalized cyberbullying as part of their cyberbullying prevention initiatives. In the meantime, national organizations are working ceaselessly to reduce the frequency of cyberbullying by educating students about proper online behavior. 

The freedom of speech does not justify bullying. Find out more about the movement against cyberbullying here.

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The 4 Main Types of Cyberbullying Across the Country

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16% of kids have cyberbullied their peer(s), reports a recent Cyberbullying Research Center study. More often than not, these bullies are motivated by their own anger and frustration. Technology provides refuge and anonymity for such behavior, empowering kids to do and say things they would otherwise not do in person.

From our analysis of 500K social media posts, we found that the majority of aggressive online posts could be broken into the four main categories listed below in order from most frequent to least frequent:

1. Namecalling/Harassment

  • “you’re a f***ing rat close yo mouth and your legs no disrespect tho.”
  • “yea you should hate yourself. as you f***ing should stupid hoe.”

2. Relationship Drama

  • “funny af how you talk s**t about my best friend right in front of me making it seem like yall wanna talk to me… there’s no need for yall to be talking s**t behind her back.  claiming that you ain’t fake and s**t.. bitch f***ing please. you f***ing snake.”
  • “@—— you can go f**k yourself and leave @—— alone…you obviously are jealous. she’s much nicer and better than your lying fake a**.”
  • “@—— stupid mother f***ing dumb a** b***h why don’t you just go have sex with some girls since you’re “famous”

3. Body Image/Looks

  • “if you’re a whore or look like one and you end up showing your slutty-ness and it winds up on my timeline…i will call you a whore and then unfriend you. with no regrets”
  • “she looks like a f***ing jew to me”

4. Threats

  • “fools gonna get beat today. i tried to warn people about lying, they just don’t want to believe me. ha. don’t f**k around with me…”

We also found that certain characteristics differ geographically across the US: students on the East Coast seem to be far more aggressive and confrontational on social media. Namecalling/Harassment posts occur about 14% more on the East Coast than on the West Coast.

Although the reason for this is unclear, it may be due to the lack of a national cyberbullying law. No federal law directly addresses bullying; legislation was introduced in 2009, but no action has been taken since. However, the Children’s Internet Protection Act (2000) requires schools to 1) monitor their students’ online behavior and 2) outline a plan to educate students on proper online behavior. Thus, each state has created their own laws and preventative measures to discourage bullying and online harassment.

Cyberbullying Laws Across the Country

The majority of West Coast states include cyberbullying in their bullying laws, while many East Coast and Midwest states do not. Georgia, Kentucky, and Nebraska have proposed including cyberbullying measures in their current policies.

State bullying laws, updated January 2016

Includes “cyberbullying” Does not include “cyberbullying”
Arkansas

California

Connecticut

Florida

Hawaii

Illinois

Kansas

Louisiana

Maine

Massachusetts

Michigan

Minnesota

Missouri

Nevada

New Hampshire

New Mexico

New York

North Carolina

Oregon

Rhode Island

Tennessee

Utah

Virginia

Washington

Alabama

Alaska

Arizona

Colorado

Delaware

Idaho

Indiana

Iowa

Maryland

Mississippi

Montana

New Jersey

North Dakota

Ohio

Oklahoma

Pennsylvania

South Carolina

South Dakota

Texas

Vermont

West Virginia

Wisconsin

Wyoming

For more information on cyberbullying laws across the country, the Cyberbullying Research Center released a brief review which compares bullying laws by state.  A more comprehensive explanation of each state’s policy can be found on stopbullying.gov.

 

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Crying Out for Help in 140 Characters or Less

 “If I die tonight, would anyone cry?”  Amber Cornwell published this post soon before committing suicide in December of 2014.

Social media is the modern-day soliloquy; kids are now more likely to lament emotional distress or seek help via online platforms. Through Machine Learning techniques, we found that Twitter was the overwhelming favorite for kids to vent emotions: 71% of flagged activity* are tweets. However, it is through these same platforms that cyberbullying occurs.

30% of flagged posts* are direct forms of cyberbullying. Interestingly, ⅓ of all students have experienced some type of online harassment.  Teens exposed to cyberbullying are 2.4 times more likely to entertain suicidal notions. Certainty of this causal relationship is demonstrated by terms like “cyberbullicide”, as used in an American Public Health Association study.

Social media interactions can provide a look into a teen’s life, yet red flags are largely ignored due to the casual nature of online culture. Mean comments and threats are posted online all the time; this problem has proliferated into a cyberbullying epidemic, one that large social media platforms are struggling to mitigate. Dick Costolo, CEO of Twitter, admitted, “We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we’ve sucked at it for years.”

 

Common Sense Media’s “5 Ways to Stop Cyberbullies”. Although this is a great guide for handling cyberbullying, there is a larger issue that still needs to be solved.

 

Amber was a victim of cyberbullying. So was Thomas Mullaney, and many others who decided to take their own life as a result. To reduce teen suicide and depression, we must eliminate a major root cause: bullying.

This month is National Bullying Prevention Month, a movement to stop bullying and cyberbullying once and for all. To learn more about how to get involved in with your local community’s bullying prevention initiatives, click here.

*Of 500,000 social media posts, 1 in 50 posts were flagged for suspicious behavior related to drugs, profanity, cyberbullying, threats, depression, or suicide.

 

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October is National Bullying Prevention Month

This year marks the 10th anniversary of National Bullying Prevention Month. Since 2006, the PACER National Bullying Prevention Center has launched nationwide campaigns to combat bullying during the month of October. In 2010, they introduced plans for cyberbullying prevention. Through community building events and education initiatives, they work to eliminate the notion that bullying is a “rite of passage” that makes kids tougher – as it actually results in devastating consequences such as decreased self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and suicide.   

In the past, PACER has partnered with companies like Disney and TLC to build upon their national campaign and amplify its message across multiple platforms to different age groups.

“You are Braver, Stronger and Smarter Than You Think” was a public service announcement produced for National Bullying Prevention Month by Disney in 2015.

 

How to Get Involved

PACER and community partners host events across the country throughout the month of October. “Run, Walk, Roll, Against Bullying” takes place in 12 different cities, and the symbolic “Unity Day” will be held on Wednesday, October 19.

They also provide online resources, including Classroom and Community Toolkits. Teachers and parents are encouraged to utilize these materials to promote conscientious behavior among their students and foster a supportive environment.

Multiple organizations work in tandem to eradicate bullying and its consequences. Stomp Out Bullying, the national anti-bullying and cyberbullying prevention organization, created Blue Shirt Day: World Day of Bullying Prevention which asks communities to stand in solidarity for anti-bullying by wearing blue clothing on the first Monday of each October.

 

To find out more information on bullying prevention and how you can join the movement, check out the following resources: