Time to End Cyberbullying

Identifying tools to combat harmful online activity.

GUEST COLUMN | by Todd Whitlock

CREDIT Social Net WatcherIf eavesdropping on your child’s social media chatter meant saving their life, or the lives of other children, would you? School administrators are asking this question, too. As an administrator and parent, I am all the time.  Hearing stories of bullied children and adolescence and the tragedies which can come from this behavior makes me sick.  No one wants to see a child bullied but facts are facts – it happens. The problem isn’t spotting aggressive behavior on the playground, in the classroom, or at school-sponsored events — it’s tracking this behavior online in Facebook, Twitter and other social networks, where much of this chatter is hidden.

Not long ago, using an opt-in social monitoring software, administrators of a private school in Tennessee intercepted a message from one of their students about “showing off” an unloaded handgun to his friends. The student posted the announcement in Facebook, which has an option to make posts visible only to a user’s friends, and not for the general public’s eye. Given the nature of Facebook, by using monitoring software, the school administration dodged a potentially deadly bullet.

Case in point.  Findings from The Cyber Bullying Research Center tell us, “70 percent of students hide their on-line behavior from parents and/or school administrators.” Staggering! The research also brings to light, “Over 50 percent of students are bullied up to 20 percent of their time on social media and more than 50 percent do not tell anyone of the bullying they experience.” 

Bullying online is much easier and can be more inescapable. So, we must prevent such behavior online through monitoring students’ activity.

Don’t get me wrong — electronic devices and access to them are very useful for communication, productivity and creative expression. Put into the wrong hands, they can and are abused. When aggressive, inflammatory, or otherwise abusive, mean messages are sent through such devices, and posted in social networks, that behavior has been dubbed cyberbullying.  And it’s hard to monitor.

You see, technology is not the root of bullying but only a new platform for behavior that’s widespread throughout history. Luckily, new monitoring software allows us to address, educate, prevent cyberbullying and save lives.

Because some bullies use cell phones and social networks to aggravate, agitate and annoy less fortunate peers, isn’t it our duty to teach students how to use technology and communicate responsibly through social media networks? It is. And it is the law, more stringent in some states than others. That being said, we won’t reach every child. Some will ignore us. They’ll say to themselves, “The ol’man (or woman) doesn’t understand.” This has happened before. For years we have preached abstinence is the best birth control – yet teens still get pregnant; graduating will give students more opportunities for success – yet we still have dropouts; and reporting a bully will help prevent aggressiveness – yet bullies and their bullying go unreported, which can lead to an innocent child dying.

As the technology director of my school and co-founder of a teacher evaluation tool [Standard For Success], I began researching various monitoring software services to give our school a leg up in combating social media abuse. I discovered one that stood out called Social Net Watcher because of its ability to monitor private or “direct” messages or posts, among other social activity on sites such as Facebook and Twitter. We believed it protected and alerted the designated school official better than those that just monitored public posts.

I was so impressed with the technology, in fact, that I began discussions with the company founder to add Social Media Monitoring and Cyber Bullying Monitoring to my own company’s dashboard, making it even easier for teachers and administrators to be on the front lines of bullying prevention.

For parents and students, what’s most appreciated about the software is the level of respect it gives to privacy. The system is set up so that social media sites are monitored through a proprietary software “scanning” process that looks for keywords and terms, not ever by humans manually reading posts. The system is intended to keep students safe, not pry into harmless daily discussions. It works through an automated three-phase process:

  • Phase 1 analyzes high value keywords.
  • Phase 2 selects adjacent words and identifies sentence structure.
  • Phase 3 calculates intensity of threat. Threats are then categorized as Violence, Bullying or Suicide.

Only after passing these three phases is a school official notified of a potential threat.

In an effort to protect our students at North Daviess Community Schools, we will continue to provide tools to aid our administrators, counselors and teachers in combating violence and bullying in schools. We feel confident that we now have the right tool in place to rigorously monitor social and private chatter online and one that gives us in depth reporting and documentation, all in compliance with state and federal law.

Todd Whitlock has been at North Daviess Community Schools for 15 years. He has served as a classroom teacher and is currently the Technology, Curriculum, and Testing Coordinator. North Daviess Community Schools has been sending 1:1 devices home for over 10 years.  Todd holds a building level and superintendent’s license; he was recognized as the Indiana TechPoint 2012 Bridge Builder Award Recipient and the 2008 winner for contributions to K-12 education. Additionally, Todd was recognized as a National School Board Association (NSBA) “20 to Watch” school leader. He is cofounder and Chief Executive Officer for Standard For Success  — an online employee evaluation and management tool with 100 percent client retention. He now also offers Social Media and Cyber Bullying Monitoring (powered by Social NetWatcher). Follow him on twitter @Twhitlock

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