08 Mar University research using AI to end cyberbullying
University of Gloucestershire, UK, is investigating how artificial intelligence (AI) could help end cyberbullying, an increasing worry for students in schools across the country.
Recent research has identified that out of 13,387 UK students aged 12–18, 27% have experienced cyberbullying, which has also affected one in five children between the ages of 10 and 15 in England and Wales.
The University has announced a new study into how AI can help reduce cyberbullying, while also launching the latest version of ‘SpeakOut!,’ an app designed for The Cyber Trust charity to help young people access the Internet safely.
Dr Qublai Ali Mirza, Senior Lecturer in Cyber Security within the University’s School of Computing and Engineering, said: “The rise in social media and the two-year lockdown we all experienced during the Covid-19 pandemic has caused a real shift in the way people communicate, and this is particularly true for children and young people.
“Our latest research is using AI tools and techniques to detect, prevent, and respond to cyberbullying using Natural Language Processing (NLP) and predictive modelling.
“NLP algorithms instantly analyse online comments, messages and posts to identify harmful language and behaviour for review by administrators.
“As this happens, our new AI modelling software is trained to predict who is most at risk of becoming a victim of cyberbullying and takes proactive measures to prevent this.
“University of Gloucestershire is currently scaling this AI tool to launch awareness campaigns based on bullying scenarios that are identified using NLP.
“We are determined to raise awareness of the negative impacts of cyberbullying and encourage individuals to act in a more responsible and compassionate manner.”
The University’s partnership project with The Cyber Trust is making great strides with the latest version of SpeakOut!, an app featuring real life examples of how young people make choices about difficult online-issues.
Zayd Dawood, Senior Lecturer in Computing Technologies within the University’s School of Computing and Engineering, said: “The University was commissioned to develop an app for The Cyber Trust to help young people with concerns including cyberbullying, body-image and sexting, along with advice on how to make the best decisions.
“These are just some of the leading causes of anxiety and depression among young people today, according to our findings, and SpeakOut! has already achieved 350 downloads.
The app provides real life examples covering a variety of dilemmas and then uses AI to offer a choice before moving onto the next part of the story. At the end you’re given a score that shows whether your decisions are positive, neutral or potentially negative.
“We’ve received great feedback from our users and are now moving on to the next development phase for the app which will include expanded story content.
“We’re now asking for young people to get in touch with us at speakout.thecybertrust.org and securely share details of their own cyber experiences to help others make the right choices.”
A cyber career shaped by bullying
Adam Bolas, a University of Gloucestershire Business and Marketing Management graduate and founder and CEO of Digital Woof Ltd says:
“As a child I experienced bullying throughout my time at school, ranging from insults, threats and intimidation, through to physical and mental acts of violence.
“I was kicked, punched and verbally abused, and sometimes felt life was hopeless, particularly one day when a teacher saw me in distress and simply glanced my way, then carried on walking without saying a word.
“The mental damage I suffered stayed with me into adulthood and, seeing how many children are now facing even more insidious cyberbullying online, as well as other forms of exploitation by companies and individuals, I was motivated to start a company dedicated to helping break this chain of abuse.
“Digital Woof’s FiDO (Family independent Devices Online) raises awareness of online dangers and helps parents, carers, and teachers protect children by offering regularly updated information and top tips on how to stay safe online and prevent incidents of harm or exploitation.
“Alongside this we’re currently setting up school trials for ‘REX’ (Registered Exemptions) to support children in the classroom by proactively detecting potentially harmful content and platforms.
“It’s a role we take seriously, and we’re not stopping until we’ve made the strongest evidence-based impact by mitigating the risks to children and vulnerable people online.”
Cyberbullying worsened by lockdown
Alex Curry, Delivery Manager at Young Gloucestershire, an organisation supporting the mental and physical wellbeing of young people in Gloucestershire, says:
“Cyberbullying is something we deal with frequently and it’s very concerning to see it increasing.
“Some of the main cyberbullying challenges our young people encounter relate to mental health, body image, homophobic and transphobic abuse, bereavement and racism.
“This can cause withdrawal and disengagement from school, leading to our mentors focusing on building self-esteem and reducing anxiety to help young people reengage in education.
“The issue has certainly become worse since lockdown. The main support strategies we encourage are online blocking, confiding in a trusted adult, using safeguarding apps, and improved online safety skills and education.
“It’s also helpful for parents and carers to understand how social media apps work, so that they can better appreciate the risks, limitations and issues involved in evidencing cyberbullying, which is particularly prevalent on platforms such as Snap Chat.”