February 5, 2014

    Can This Smartphone App Stop Cyberbullying?

    “Over 40 percent of teenagers with Internet access have reported being bullied online, and 95 percent of media-using teens say they have witnessed it. Witnesses don’t report for fear of retaliation and being branded as a snitch. Victims don’t report because they feel ashamed and powerless. When you take into account cyberbullying’s miserable reporting statistics, giving kids the ability to report bullies‘ actions on the technology with which they feel most comfortable (and from which they can send reports from covertly) seems a worthy experiment. “The number one tool/instrument used in cyberbullying are smartphones,” said Todd Schobel, who created STOPit. “So give them that exact smartphone that they’re comfortable with, and let the kids make the difference.”

    Some educators are skeptical of the ability of STOPit and similar apps to decrease the prevalence of cyberbullying. “STOPit is good—it facilitates [reporting] and makes it easier,” said Elizabeth Englander, author of Bullying and Cyberbullying: What Every Educator Needs To Know. “But I would wonder, how many kids are going to want to get on an app and designate an administrator? … Many children go through school feeling that these problems are never going to happen to them.”

    When I brought up this concern with Taylor, he said Kenilworth’s administrators were planning to stress the anonymity piece of the app, comparing it to the boxes school principals used to have outside their offices where students could anonymously drop written reports of peers’ wrongdoing. “Those generally worked,” he said. “Not only is it the next version of that, it’s a more efficient version of doing that.”

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