New Platform Being Developed to Block Cyberbullying

The strength of people power is to be harnessed to help identify and block subtle cyberbullying that can currently get through online filters.

This article was published by The Irish Examiner on May 2nd 2014.

A team at Dublin City University (DCU) will soon make public its site where anybody can log on and give examples of phrases or terms that could be used to harass or bully online.

While there are a range of software filters which will pick up on obvious derogatory terms, allowing site operators step in or parents to be alerted, the idea is to use technology to raise a flag when non-explicit — but also potentially offensive — language is used.

“Something like writing ‘Mary is going home to eat 10 pizzas’ has obvious connotations about a person being overweight. But the way most filters are set up, there would be nothing in the statement to mean it is blocked,” said Laura Grehan, marketing officer of the CNGL Centre for Global Intelligence Content at DCU.

“Our work is about identifying those more implicit forms of bullying, and the platform we’re close to finalising will invite members of the public to send us phrases with bullying associations so they can become a trigger for the filter to pick it up,” she said.

In private trial operation to date, one in four submitted words or phrases related to stereotypes about nationality, and nearly one in five were about personality or physical appearance.

It remains open as to how it might be commercialised, but there is potential to develop the software to help businesses keep public online forums free from hate propaganda, pornographic, violent or denigrating material.

This could include the ability to set score thresholds which would have to be crossed before site moderators review content and intervene.

The plan is to combine the text analytics expertise of CNGL with the National Anti-Bullying Centre (NABC) which moved to DCU last year.

The anti-bullying centre has been given €50,000 by the Department of Education to assist in its work combating cyber and other forms of bullying.

It is just one of the research areas the NABC will work on. Others will include a collaboration with DCU’s business school which recently agreed a license to mine data from the big online social networks.

Access to this data should allow the centre to undertake significant studies on a range of aspects of social behaviour, including online bullying.

Studies on workplace bullying are also planned in co-operation with companies, trade unions, and professional associations.

The centre has organised a national anti-bullying conference in September, in conjunction with Bully4U, which aims to help people working with children to tackle cyberbullying and safeguard young people’s mental health.

“Awareness of cyberbullying incidents has increased through extensive media coverage, yet teachers and parents still feel ill-equipped to address the problem directly,” said NABC director James O’Higgins Norman.


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