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Websites embrace cyberbullying software

March 9, 2011 5:58:25 PM PST
Bullying has moved from the schoolyard to the Internet, and sometimes with tragic consequences. However, new behind-the-scenes technology is gaining a foothold to protect children from cyberbullying.

It is unsettling to hear experts say half of all teenagers encounter bullying online, and it drives 20 percent of them to think about suicide. A British company has a one-of-a-kind solution online sites in the United States are starting to embrace.

On a small but growing number of sites, software is starting to track conversations in search of bullying. Language -- certain words we can't use on TV -- are the primary triggers. But other clues include spelling, punctuation and the speed of keystrokes. The result is a psychograph.

"If that child starts bullying one person or multiple people, then their reputation score increases to the point where they'll either be looked at by a human moderator or automatically sort of kicked out," says Adam Hildreth, CEO and founder of Crisp Thinking.

Hildreth's company has been working on identifying cyberbullying for five years. Seventy online gaming and social networking sites have signed on. So far, MySpace, Facebook and Twitter have not.

While Crisp Thinking is trying to nab culprits and ban them, Common Sense Media has been developing lessons for teachers. Its goal is to help victims of cyberbullying to know what to do when it happens.

"When do they want a parent or a teacher to get involved? When do they want to try handle it themselves? That's a big part of empowerment," says Alan Simpson, vice president of Common Sense Media. "Some kids should know they just need to be able to stand up for themselves and tell the other kids in their space, 'Hey, don't treat me like that.'"

The curriculum was developed with educators at Harvard. It includes videos where kids can hear directly from others who were bullied.

Crisp Thinking analyzed 15 million instant messages by children and discovered one-third were classified as cyberbullying.

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama have taken a stand against this behavior. A video was posted on Facebook in which the president says, "For a long time bullying was treated as an unavoidable part of growing up, but more and more we're seeing how harmful it can be for our kids."

There are two approaches to cyberbullying -- empowering the victims to take action and tracking bullies to block them. But there's also a third safeguard.

"Parents still need to be speaking constantly to their children to make sure everyone they're engaged with is safe," said Hildreth.

The president and first lady will host a summit Thursday at the White House to develop strategies to stop bullying.

For more information how teachers can tap into the lessons on cyberbullying, visit Common Sense Media.


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