Young boy being bullied by peers

Fighting Bullying With Technology

9 Feb 2016 by Teresa Meek

Attitudes toward bullying have come a long way since the days when people shrugged their shoulders and considered it an inevitable rite of passage.

Serious and getting worse

Today, bullying has expanded from the bus stop and the playground to social media, and cyberbullying is recognized as a serious problem that can cause psychological trauma for boys and girls from Kindergarten through high school. Bullying victims are two to nine times more likely to consider suicide than other kids, Yale research shows, and some have followed through on their impulses.

Kids can be vicious on the Internet, where they don’t have to face their victims, and they don’t always outgrow the behavior. In fact, while physical bullying peaks in middle school, cyberbullying continues through high school, and boys feel less sympathy for victims as they age, according to DoSomething.org.

In high school, 160,000 kids skip school every day because they are afraid of bullying, a National Education Association report says. But kids are too ashamed to admit it. By age 14, less than 30% of boys and 40% of girls will talk to their peers about bullying.

Solving the bullying problem requires a coordinated effort by parents, teachers and kids themselves. According to the National Bullying Prevention Center, school-based prevention programs decrease bullying by up to 25%.

But what about after school?

If some of today’s innovative programs catch on, the very technology that enables cyberbullying may also contain the seeds of its destruction.

Fighting back with games

League of Legends, the world’s most popular videogame, is a breeding grounds for abusive behavior, its owner Riot Games admits.

The company decided to do something about it, hiring scientists and designers who used machine learning to find effective ways to make players more civil.

Results amazed the company. It now uses software to monitor for abuse, and has uncovered millions of incidents. The system delivers feedback to users within five minutes, and offending players are penalized during or after games. A full 92% of offenders have not repeated their behavior after being caught.

The company believes its model could be used by many other applications, and is open to sharing its data.

Fighting back with apps

Sometimes a nudge is all it takes to stop an impulsive teen from bullying.

That’s what 15-year-old Trisha Prabhu found when, inspired by the suicide of an 11-year-old Florida girl who was bullied on social media, she developed an app to discourage bullying.

She did research to learn the best way to approach teens, and learned that the prefrontal cortex of adolescent brains isn’t fully developed, making young people prone to impulsive behavior. Her app alerts them to the potential harm hateful messages could cause and asks them to think twice before posting.

Prabhu was skeptical about her app at first, fearing image-conscious teens would consider it “stupid.”

But it worked — in a test of 300 kids ages 12 to 18, 93% changed their minds and decided not to post offensive remarks.

Other anti-bullying apps on the market include STOPit and Bully Block, which encourage kids to report bullying to adults anonymously, and Bully Box, which enables reporting and also points kids to outside help for counseling and prevention.

Fighting back with social media

Twitter, often used as a platform for bullying and inciting others to violence, recentlyannounced changes to its platform to reduce cyberbullying, including widening its definition of violent content and policing violators more vigilantly.

More resources

The National PTA offers a full menu for combatting bullying, including tools to help you get started, discover your community’s specific problems, build a team and develop positive social media messaging.