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Smart App Fights Cyberbullying

Researchers at CU Boulder created an app to help parents identify cyberbullying on Instagram.

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Troubled by the rise of cyberbullying, researchers at CU Boulder created an app for Instagram to combat the issue. In 2017, the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), indicated that an estimated 14.9 percent of high school students were electronically bullied in the 12 months prior to the survey. In developing the Bully Alert app, researchers looked at other social media sites such as Ask.fm and Vine, to study how cyberbullying takes place on social media, and how to quickly detect it.

Bully Alert notifies parents to cyberbullying, by sending an alert within two hours after the onset of abuse. To set up alerts, parents download the free Bully Alert app—currently only available in the Android store—and sign into their child’s Instagram account. The app then begins tracking their child’s account to check for signs of bullying.

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One of the researchers, Shivakant Mishra, says Instagram cyberbullying mainly takes place in the comments section, but there are chances for bullying to happen in direct messages (DMs) or by another individual posting a harmful image of another kid on their own profile.

What makes Bully Alert unique is its ability to learn from and adapt to what parents consider bullying.

“What one group may consider cyberbullying the other group may consider simply harmless humor,” explains Mishra. “When parents are alerted to a possible cyberbullying situation, the parent can view the comment that presented that alert, and provide feedback, indicating yes or no to whether this is cyberbullying or not. The app then takes that feedback and retrains itself so that over time, the app becomes personalized to how each parent defines cyberbullying.”

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