Clemson Team Making App to Fight Cyber Bullies

As technology continues to change, how will you find ways to protect your children from online bullies?

Blakely Johnson has grown up with the internet. She’s been on social media since middle school. “People I don’t know comment on things on my social media accounts and I’m like, I don’t know you.”

In her 17 years, she’s seen a lot of nasty comments from friends and strangers and while she can’t pinpoint a time she’s been targeted by a cyber bully, she’s seen people close to her get hurt.

“Everyday,” she added. “Sometimes multiple times a day, my best friends get into it all the time on social media.”

Clemson researchers say bullies are now targeting victims as young as preschool age. And parents are having to find new ways to keep their children safe.

“They have higher levels of anxiety, higher levels of depression. Their academic performance can suffer and in isolated cases, the can be victims of suicide,” said Robin Kowalski, Clemson Professor of Psychology.

So to help parents adapt, a Clemson research team has come up with a defense app they’re calling VC_Defender. The program will use keywords to find Cyberbullies. They’re using the Clemson Social Media Listening Center to identify key words used against victims.

“Common words for cyber bullying are profanity paired words commonly used online,” said Elizabeth Whitaker, Clemson Senior, helping with the project. “So you need that human touch to make sure you are getting what you want.”

It will search pictures videos and the comments online to identify kids that may be targeted.. A message will then be sent to the bully to tell show them how their comments were hurtful. “You know they go to school the next day and think was it a kid at school? Just as the victims don’t know, it gives the perpetrators power.”

Then an alert will be sent to teachers and parents. So they can address the problem and let them know how severe the bullying is. They’ll also be given tips on how to intervene. “They’re going to think that’s okay and it’s not okay.” The group believes this app will expose the biggest problem kids today face and keep another generation, like Blakely’s from getting used to the abuse.

The research team received a $240,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to continue their work on the anti-cyber bully app. The team expects the app to be available sometime in the next two years.

According to Clemson Researchers, Eighty-six percent of U.S. adolescents used the Internet in 2012, an increase of 67 percent from 2000, according to a 2013 report from the Center for the Digital Future. Each spent an average of 20 hours per week online, up from nine hours in 2000.

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