May 9, 2017

    STOPit in Japan: The Anti-Bullying App

    Online bullying has become a serious problem for children with the spread of connected devices like smartphones. Now, a US company is helping people fight back with an anti-bullying app.

    Abusive messages and photos posted online spread instantly, and are difficult to erase.

    That’s why a school in western Japan has started using the app. Many students use their cellphones to access the Internet.

    Takashi Ikeda, principal of Tezukayama Elementary School explains how the system works.

    “You can send a message to the teachers anytime, from anywhere,” he says.

    Parents download the app so they can anonymously report cases of bullying. It’s kept off the children’s phones to prevent any pranks.

    “By getting tips, we can save children on a real-time basis. I think it’s an excellent system,” says Ikeda.

    Todd Schobel is CEO of the US IT firm that developed the app. A story on the radio prompted him to act.

    “A young girl that was cyberbullied, abused, extorted over the Internet, for a period of two years, and she had taken her life. I just pictured a young child in the corner of a room, holding her head down… what do I do, how can I stop this?” he says.

    Schobel thought that using smartphones to outsmart cyber-bullies was the only way to stop them.

    The app can unmask bullies on publicly accessible websites, like Twitter, as well as private message groups that are normally hard to trace.

    First, a user sends an anonymous tip through the app. Then, a teacher investigates and can contact the informant for more details.

    Once the bully is identified, the teacher meets with the person to try to stop the abusive behavior. School counselors are also kept in the loop.

    At a high school in New Jersey that uses the app, bullying cases have fallen by more than half.

    Brian Luciani, principal of David Brearley Middle High School, explains.

    “It allows us to be very proactive. It allows us to stay on top of situations that may be occurring, or that have the possibility to occur,” he says.

    The students feel reassured as well.

    “They don’t know it’s you. They just know that they can take care of it and that it could stop and that could end — it’s like a relief off your shoulders,” says one.

    And there are applications beyond schools too. Some companies have started using the app to deal with workplace harassment.

    The app, designed to thwart school bullies, shows how a business with a smart idea can tap new markets — and help people in the process.


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