How to Balance Trust and Safety in Digital Monitoring

parents, online, content, trust, safety, teens

Malware, spyware, online predators, phishing, etc. – your child faces these threats each time they log in to their device. The internet can be a devious place, with questionable content tucked into its darker corners.  As parents, you are inclined to install every safety measure possible to protect your children from harm.

Sure, these precautions are imperative for younger, elementary school-aged children. However, as kids become teens – chances are they won’t want you tracking their movements, monitoring their online activity, and/or filtering their content. To them, it is a breach of their privacy and a lack of trust. Perhaps this sentiment is merely a front for content they are trying to hide, but let’s not start off too skeptical. Psychologist Michael Rubino has worked with teens and families for 20 years; he says teenagers often ask, “If they want me to be responsible, how can I be responsible if they do not give me a chance?”

This in turn often leaves parents with the question: How do I walk the line between trusting and monitoring my teen?

It is possible.


In most cases, parents buy their child’s device (smartphone, laptop, etc.) and parents pay for the data service. Thus, it is important to remind your kid that their screentime is a privilege and thus can be taken away. Although this seems rather authoritarian, it is a point often taken for granted.

On a lighter note, the following includes more collaborative practices for establishing trust, while maintaining your child’s safety:

1. Transparency

“Spying” is masked with an incredibly negative connotation that lies in deception and secrecy. Tracking all of your child’s online activity without their knowledge already diminishes the chance of parent-child relationship built on trust.

It is best to tell your child of the x,y, z security measures you have installed to avoid feelings of betrayal, and later retaliation. By being frank with your child, you are establishing an openness intended to be respected/reciprocated. It sends the message: “Hey, I think these security measures are necessary. I can see what you’re doing. I’m giving you the responsibility to make decisions, and I’m holding you accountable for them.”

2. Compromise

48% of parents have read through their teen’s messages, and 61% monitor their browser history. However, this does not encourage an atmosphere of trust. A recent NYT article Should You Spy on Your Kids? claims: “A parent who constantly micromanages a teenager’s life — Why did you stop here? Why did you go there? — risks stifling the independence needed to develop into an adult.”

Please, do allow your child more freedom as they move through elementary school and onto middle and high school – but this does not mean you have to relinquish all responsibilities as the protectorate. Oscar Wilde once said, “With age come wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone.” Although a bleak statement, this lends to the more moderate notion: although the transition from child to young adult marks a large jump in maturity, there is still a lot to be learned.

To foster a relationship built on mutual trust, discuss trade-offs. This can be as simple as being “friends” on Facebook or keeping Location Services on, but no reading through messages. When approached correctly, these tools should need not feel intrusive.

3. Talk Boundaries   

First and foremost, teach your children how to properly use technology as with great power, comes great responsibility. Impart digital literacy and digital citizenship practices and make clear what sites should and should not be accessed. Set ground rules and discuss expectations with your young adult as soon as possible: this includes individual screen time limits as well as restrictions on interacting with others on online platforms. In doing their part, parents should also be aware of the current technological climate.

On the other hand, if your teen is sharing a part of their world with you (being friends/sharing updates on social media) show the same respect by being courteous and following online etiquette: do not comment on every post, do not like every photo, etc. Check out this guide “How Parents Should Approach Their Teens on Social Media” for helpful tips to navigating this fairly new type of relationship.

4. Data Usage/Limits

Relative to the other practices, this is quite simple. Parents can set the data plan through their wireless provider to limit their teen’s browsing and app usage. This includes specifications like (1) app access only through Wi-Fi or (2) blocking texts, calls, and browsing during a designated time. These simple implementations limit access to online content (and also saves money), while still giving teens the freedom they crave.

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Help Your Kids Spend Screen Time Wisely

screen time, games, children, parents, media

A recent study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics re-evaluated appropriate screen time limits for young children. The assessment redefined “screen time” as the use of digital media exclusively for entertainment.

In the past, scientists and parents regarded screen time as the collective amount of time a child interacted with their device –and used this as the main factor to assess the potential benefits and/or consequences of screen exposure. However, this new metric focuses on the content and intent of device usage, addressing the positive results from educational-technology research. For example, an experiment in Australia concluded that children who play video games every day tend to perform better academically than those who do not. The theory goes that children who play video games develop critical thinking skills by solving challenges presented in the game. In contrast, students who use social media more frequently performed lower on standardized tests.

Given the debate over the relationship between screen time and child development –especially in the edtech world–this provides a point of clarity for parents as they work with their child to develop healthy device usage habits.

The new guidelines are as follows:

  • 18 months and younger: no screen time
  • 2-5 years old: one hour/day
  • 6-years-old and up: prioritize and complete other activities before screentime. Another study showed that ~4 hours was “just right” for peak performance.

Ultimately, it’s not necessarily how long children spend online, but what they are spending their time on. The following are fun resources for quality, engaging, and educational online content:

Common Sense Media

Common Sense Media includes resources for educational purposes or pure entertainment. They regularly compile a “Best of” List for Games, Apps, Websites, Movies, TV, etc. that are easily accessible through a navigation pane. These lists are broken down on a scale of 1-5 and organized by age group (“Preschoolers”, “Little Kids”, “Big Kids”, and “Tweens”). Another helpful feature for parents: they provide reviews for new movies and games, basing their rating on seven key elements (positive messages, positive role models, violence, sex, language, consumerism, drinking/drugs/smoking).

screen time, games, children, parents, mediascreen time, games, children, parents, media

 

PBS Kids – Reading Games

PBS Kids hosts a variety of game on their website and mobile app. The games are organized by subject/topic or by the TV show it’s based on.

screen time, games, children, parents, media

 

Kids.gov

“The U.S. government’s portal site that provides a gateway to hundreds of Federal and other websites for use by kids and teens.”

Kids.gov provides games and other educational resources for Kids (grades K-5)  and Pre-Teens (grades 6-8). They have a variety of interactive activities centered around learning the science and history of your environment – for example, they have a “Design Your Own Roller Coaster” challenge listed under the Science category. Other resources include Art and Music, Math, Jobs & Careers, Online Safety, etc.

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How to Be a Digitally Aware Parent in 2017

parents, children, screen time, online safety

Kids are trading in swing sets for headsets and see-saws for Slither. There are apps developed specifically for 1-year-olds, and on average, a child receives their first smartphone at the age of 10. It’s 2017 – parents must be cognizant of the virtual playground, just as they looked on while their children scaled the jungle gym.

This constant influx of technology – and at increasingly younger ages – poses a variety of risks for children that range from compromised cybersecurity to impaired cognitive development. However, the best way for parents to ensure online child safety is to be digitally literate and digitally aware themselves. And here’s how:

1. Know the Trends

To understand your child’s device habits, it’s important to know what types of content they are consuming.  For parents who feel that monitoring browser history is too overbearing, this is a less intrusive way to gain insight into what type of material their kids are exposed to. Business Insider surveyed a large group of teens to see what the biggest trends were among young adults this past year.

App Annie regularly reports top download apps and games by category: social networking, kids, entertainment, etc. Google Trends reports top searches and YouTube populates the most viewed videos on their home page.

2. Use Your Resources

The US government has compiled a list of resources centered around cybersafety and cyberbullying prevention. Additionally, there are a variety of tools available that are designed to help parents monitor and protect their children online at all times:

Web filters block inappropriate content, protect from malware, and can detect instances of bullying or self-harm. For full coverage, these apps allow parents to track and regulate their kid’s activity undetected. Google’s My Activity feature compiles watch and search history across all Google Apps, including YouTube. It also tracks devices, where they have been, and what apps you have used; these settings are adjustable. Although controversial, checking your child’s “My Activity” is a free way to follow their digital footprints.

 

3. Engage With Your Child

Younger Children

A recent study focused on how toddlers learn from touchscreens. Researchers observed the difference in a child’s retention and reproduction of a puzzle pattern when the puzzle-assembly tutorial was (1) demonstrated by a “ghost demonstration” on a tablet and (2) performed by an adult sitting next to them. The results: “The 2- and 3-year-olds who saw the ghost demonstration had a hard time replicating the task — but did well after they saw the human hand. Researchers concluded that having a human guide — often referred to as having social scaffolding — helped these young children learn.”

Young Adults

Reassign the hours usually devoted to scrolling through social media apps or online shopping in for a “device-free”, family activity time: start a project with your children, decide upon a book to read together, or introduce a regular time to catch-up and talk about your day. Being attuned to your child’s behavior on-and-off screen is an integral part of keeping them safe. Many young adults fall victim to cyberbullying and serious consequences may ensue. However, many teens do not reach out for help;. Spotting the signs early through shifts in your child’s behavior can prevent the devastating consequences, and ensure they are receiving the proper support they need.

Signs your child may be experiencing cyberbullying:

  • Becomes withdrawn
  • Suddenly stops using the computer
  • Loses interests in hobbies once enjoyed
  • Stops using computer or dims the screen when someone is nearby
  • More can be found here

4. Connect with Other Parents

Many parents have the same concerns when it comes to privacy and internet safety. CommonSense Media, a non-profit that works to promote safe technology usage, has created a trusted forum for parents to voice their concerns. Parents can both “Ask an Expert” and receive guidance from other parents. The forum is segmented by age group.

parents, children, screen time, safety

 

5. Set Guidelines for both Parents and Kids

In 2016, parents spent a daily average of 9 hours and 22 minutes interacting with some sort of screen media. About 8 of these hours were devoted to recreational use. To effectively set screen time boundaries for children, parents must lead by example and consciously make an effort to forgo picking up their device.  Set “no-phone zones”, schedule outdoor activity time, and impose daily screen time limits. Also, make sure that children do not use their device directly before bedtime; studies have shown that this disrupts sleep patterns and can lead to poor academic performance.

It’s especially important to limit screen time during early stages of development. Check out these new guidelines for screen time exposure by age group, abridged from an American Academy of Pediatrics report.

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Web Filtering: equally beneficial for your 5-year-old & 15-year-old

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Web filtering is required by law, as long as schools wish to receive e-rate funding to supply their digital classrooms. The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) requires that schools “block Internet access to pictures that are (a) obscene (b) child pornography or (c) harmful to minors.” CIPA also requires schools to monitor student online activity and provide training for responsible technology use.

The general sentiment: students –especially teens– hate web filtering*. Most students find web filtering to be unnecessarily inhibitive, citing that it blocks perfectly acceptable web pages due to one keyword or denies access to social media pages. One argument goes that filtering prevents exploration and blocks students from using tools like Facebook for academic causes. Another, that it is a breach of student privacy.


*Misdirected blame: Web filtering is different at each school. Federal law doesn’t specifically require schools to block Facebook, Twitter, etc. Your web filtering provider doesn’t dictate that X, Y, or Z website needs to be blocked. Besides fundamental protection against pornography and similar graphic content, it’s at the discretion of each school district to whitelist or blacklist the specific sites that students take issue with. Some schools leave social media open, some schools restrict access, etc. Web filtering, when used correctly, can be utilized to help –not hurt–the student experience.


Web filtering applies to all schools, which means the measure applies to all students from kindergarten through 12th grade. Older students are particularly irked by filtering and feel that although filtering content is necessary to shield younger kids, it is gratuitous for those close to adulthood. Web filtering does vary dramatically from elementary, middle, to high school – however, it offers additional aspects often forgotten that are equally optimal for students of any age.

1. Cyberbullying & Self-Harm Detection

Particular web filters can screen for instances of bullying and self-harm in social media posts. From 2007-2016, the number of students who experienced bullying roughly doubled from 18.8% to 33.8% according to a Cyberbullying Research Center report.  The CDC analyzed cyberbullying by age group and found that 15.5% percent of high school students are cyberbullied, as are 24% of middle school students. Technology is now integrated into daily life at a very young age, leaving even elementary school students at risk for cyberbullying.

37% of cyberbullying cases go unreported; often, students are fearful that 1) the bullying will get worse 2) they’ll be considered a “rat” 3) no one will listen if they seek help. Given bullying’s devastating consequences, detection of bullying and negative sentiment can allow schools/parents to give students the proper care. And even save lives.

2. Productivity and screen time management

In our recent international survey, 53% of students aged 9-18 reported being productive only half of the total time spent working on school assignments. Blocking sites like social media and gaming (especially for younger children) keeps students focused on learning. Some filtering services even allow the admin to establish time restrictions on certain sites (social media, gaming, entertainment, etc.) to create a good balance between recreational and study time.

Also, overexposure to screens may have harmful consequences for cognitive development. Although 5-year-olds may not have research papers to write and assignments to finish, web filtering can help parents and educators manage healthy levels of device usage.

3. Defense against malware and phishing

We asked students their take on web filtering. One student responded, “You don’t get rude ads or viruses.” Pop-ups and pseudo-content are not only annoying but also often dangerous.  Online aggressors specifically target children, enticing them to click on attractive advertisements or links leading to viruses.  

A web filter screens the origin and content of a web page, checking for objectionable content, spyware, and viruses that may compromise your network. It helps keep students safe online and protects from intrusive viruses, malware, and ransomware.

4. Helps teachers understand students

On his blog, an IT admin expressed how web filtering helped school staff understand student preferences: ”…you can see stats for student web access. Not blocked pages, which they have a view for too, but sites kids are using. In our case, as we begin having discussions about whether Newsela is a service we want to pursue as a district standard, we now have compelling data telling us that it’s already being widely used and is, in fact, our most accessed website on a weekly basis.”

Teachers can use these insights to create engaging lesson plans and foster a collaborative learning environment, while best-integrating technology into their classroom.

 

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5 Reasons Why Securly is Trusted by Schools in 42/50 States

parent, securly, school, supportGiven the shift towards cloud computing in recent years, schools are moving away from traditional hardware web filtering appliances for the following reasons:

  1. The don’t have school-focused features.
  2. They’re too expensive.
  3. They’re not designed to filter students at home. They require nontrivial setup and maintenance.

Our unique approach to student safety combats all of these issues, and has garnered us a presence in schools in 42 of the 50 States, and in the UK – all of this accomplished in less than four years. In the past year alone, we were 1) chosen as a SC Media 2017 Excellence Award Finalist in the Best Compliance Solution 2) awarded the Tech & Learning’s Award of Excellence for “Best Upgraded Product” and 3) became the first web filtering company to receive the iKeepSafe California Privacy Badge.  

Here’s why schools trust Securly as their answer to CIPA Compliance and online student safety:    

1. Quick, easy set-up and maintenance

Contrary to traditional hardware appliances which require an arduous set-up process, Securly can be independently installed within 5 minutes through a web browser session. The only changes to your network would involve a change in DNS forwarder settings. Securly is infinitely scalable in the cloud and does not have any bandwidth limitations.

Our cloud-based solution eliminates complicated set-up and constant maintenance that often burdens IT admins. It also eliminates extraneous costs of mandatory updates and extra features, cutting expenses dramatically for schools.

Securly continues to work for school-owned devices at home. Chromebook filtering uses a Chrome extension that takes only seconds to deploy. To find out more, check out “How to install the Securly Chrome Extension in 5 Minutes”.
 
 

2. Excellent support

Securly is with school IT every step of the way. We were even awarded the Tech & Learning Stellar Service Award for “Sales Support You Can Believe In.” We have a first response time of 12 minutes and a median ticket solve time of 1.5 hours pre-and-post sale. We give IT admins a white-glove onboarding experience which includes network configuration changes and an end-to-end UI walkthrough and training.

In addition, Securly’s support site is easy to navigate and features a variety of step-by-step guides intended to answer quick questions and smooth the configuration process (for example “How to Install the Securly Chrome Extension in 5 Minutes” featured above).

support, Securly, school, parent

 

3. Bullying and self-harm detection

Our commitment to student safety goes beyond CIPA compliance – Securly is the industry’s first cyberbullying detection solution. Using Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning algorithms, Securly can detect instances of bullying and self-harm on social media, and now Gmail*. This technology does not rely solely on keywords to detect human audits.

Nowadays, students often turn to social media to express emotional distress. At the first sign of negative sentiment, we send high confidence alerts to both parents and school administration so that the student can receive the proper support ASAP. Mark Nelson, the Technology Director of Romeo Community Schools, has seen the power of this feature first-hand: “Securly’s Flagged Activity has helped us contact school counselors four times to make them aware of alarming posts by teenagers. The avoidance of a single tragedy with one of our students is worth 1000x the subscription price.”

*Auditor by Securly is our free tool to monitor Gmail for bullying and self-harm. Keeping this tool free forever is our commitment to K-12 schools.

 

4. Parent engagement

We believe that online student safety is best achieved when IT Admins, School Administration & Guidance Counselors, Parents, and Students work together. Thus, we provide parents with the tools to be engaged in and aware of their child’s online activity.

For parents, we provide automatic weekly email reports of their child’s online activity on school owned devices and more detailed activity information with our parent portal. The portal gives parents a bird’s eye view of their child’s activity on school owned devices. Parents can also customize what their child can do and see at home using the school-owned take home devices. More about parent features can be found here.

We also created a mobile app for parents to help them stay in the loop while on-the-go.
 
 

5. Relief for IT Admins and Teachers

An IT Admin’s job often becomes a bottleneck of support tickets and flagged student activity. To alleviate this inefficiency, Securly has created solutions to reduce the stress on IT Admins that engage teachers, guidance counselors, and parents.

Teacher-Centric Filtering. Admins can allow teachers to temporarily or permanently whitelist individual sites as exceptions to a district policy. “This is precisely how we felt after making the move to Securly,” says Tom Walker, Director of Technology for Massac. “We felt compelled to go with Securly because of its teacher-friendly benefits. For example, if teachers come across a blocked site, they can simply temporarily whitelist the site to grant access for themselves or their students. As an IT administrator who typically receives numerous support tickets, this made my job a whole lot easier, and my teachers a whole lot happier!”

Delegated Administration. Our “set-and-forget” solution allows IT Admins to allow automatic access for Principals, Guidance Counselors, and Parents access to student activity reports.

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Securly’s Year in Review

As 2016 comes to an end, here’s a brief summary detailing just some of our accomplishments this year.  2017, here we come!

SPRING

We receive the Tech & Learning Stellar Service Award for “Sales Support You Can Believe In”With a first response time of 12 minutes and a median ticket solve time of 1.5 hrs, pre- and post-sales, Securly was recognized by Tech & Learning for excellent sales support. We give prospects a white-glove onboarding experience which includes network configuration changes and an end-to-end UI walkthrough and training.


We start serving 1 in 4 schools in the San Francisco Bay AreaMany school districts –including Los Gatos, Morgan Hill, Campbell, Milpitas, Portola Valley, Dublin, Healdsburg– made the switch to Securly given our cloud-based platform and unique features:

  • Ability to secure a heterogeneous mix of devices including iPads, laptops, and Chromebooks both in school and at home.
  • Bullying and self-harm detection on social media using natural language processing.
  • Free e-mail reports and parent portal that offer the promise of boosting parental engagement.

We also serve our nation’s leading Charter networks – Aspire Public Schools, Summit Public Schools, KIPP and Rocketship.

SUMMER

Delegated Administration – our “set-and-forget” Solution for District IT . You asked, we listened. Support tickets for web-filtering in K-12 districts generally fall into two large buckets: 1) requests for unblock websites 2) requests for pulling user reports for disciplinary purposes. In addition, IT admins are responsible for timely response to detection of self-harm or cyberbullying.  This feature unburdens district IT and provides Principals, Guidance Counselors, and Parents access to student activity reports.

Seamless logins for our parent portal.  Parents can get access to the Securly portal by simply clicking through their weekly email reports. The portal gives parents a bird’s eye view of their child’s activity on school owned devices. They also have the ability to set policies at home

Auditor by Securlya free tool to monitor Google Mail and Chat for bullying and self-harmThis tool uses Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning algorithms to detect harmful sentiment in messages on Gmail, Drafts, and Chat without relying solely on keywords that require human audits. Keeping this tool free forever is our commitment to K-12 schools.


We become the first web filtering company to receive the iKeepSafe California Privacy Badge. To achieve this badge, companies must meet all requirements outlined in primary federal and California laws. This program helps educators and parents in the state of California identify edtech tools and services that protect student data privacy.

“We congratulate Securly on successfully completing a careful privacy review by iKeepSafe.  In the past few years, a large amount of legislation has emerged protecting and governing student data. By receiving the iKeepSafe privacy badge, Securly has taken an essential step in helping educators navigate this new terrain and keep student information safe.” Marsali Hancock, president and CEO of iKeepSafe


Securly @ ISTE Denver.  Securly rocked the floor at the 2016 ISTE Conference & Expo where 16,000 educators gathered for four days of ed-tech immersion.


We release Can Social Media Save Lives? –a quantified study on cyberbullying Through analysis of over a half million social media posts from over 300 school districts in 2016, Securly found that the average school district faces the threat of teen suicide about every two weeks. Our research centered around student online behavior and its tendencies towards suicide, self-harm, and depression.


We become the first self-servable web filterTo save IT Admins time and frustration during the back-to-school rush, we streamlined our setup process to be independently completed through a web browser session – without ever needing to speak with a sales or support person. With this update, we eliminated the complexity of network based web-filters with the simplicity of EdTech tools like Remind and ClassDojo.

FALL

We raise $4M in Series A funding. In the new year, we will extend beyond B2B software solutions for schools by engaging parents through a consumer application that allows parents to easily monitor and guide their child’s online activity.

Funding was led by Owl Ventures, a fund that invests in the world’s top Ed-tech startups. Amit Patel, a Partner at Owl Ventures, said, “Securly’s vision of what the future should look like for online student safety combined with the team’s deep expertise with information security and impressive execution is what made Owl Ventures excited to be part of their journey.”   


We are chosen as a SC Media 2017 Excellence Award FinalistOur unique approach to student safety that goes beyond basic CIPA compliance sets itself apart in the web filtering industry, and the SC Awards has taken notice – recognizing us as one of the finalists for Excellence Awards: Best Compliance Solution Category. We see this as recognition of the fact that Securly has made it easier and cheaper than ever for K-12 IT admins to be CIPA compliant.

“Ransomware, nation-state cyber attacks, IoT vulnerabilities, data privacy issues and more are dominating the headlines right now, and it’s critical that we amplify the importance of these problems and highlight the actions organizations can take to safeguard their organizations and their critical data assets,” said Illena Armstrong, VP, editorial, SC Media. “As bad actors are constantly changing strategy, so too are the men, women, and companies endeavoring to stop them in their tracks. These finalists have shown that they are the best at what they do.”


We are selected for Tech & Learning’s Award of ExcellenceWe are honored to have been recognized by Tech & Learning under the “Best Upgraded Product” category. This year alone, we have announced new features that are first-in-industry. We will continue to work towards student safety in 2017!

 

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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

bully, coast, cyberbully, law, online

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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