Former Victim Creates App to Combat Cyberbullying

My Social Sitter is a new program that enables parents to view any messages including key phrases that could be seen as offensive or self-harming.

by Haley Hoar, Palestine Herald-Press, Texas / January 7, 2016 0

(TNS) -- This year, Westwood Junior High in Dallas, Texas, has taken an initiative to thwart cyber-bullying before it happens. As a fundraiser for the student council, the school is encouraging a new software that stops bullying with an app.

“It's designed to help parents be more aware of how their children are using social media,” Westwood Junior High Principal Julana Harmon said. “It's easy to hide behind your device and say mean things.”

My Social Sitter is a new program developed to encourage positive communication between students. With the software, parents are able to view any messages that hold key phrases that could be seen as offensive or self-harming. So far the program covers text messaging and Twitter, but is growing to include other platforms as well.

“Basically I was a child that experienced bullying before social media existed,” founder Michele Joel said. “Many times when I moved around for my dad's job, I experienced the cruelty of kids, being the new kid everywhere I moved. Through the years I was able to overcome it, but I still as an adult had some little anxiety issues. I finally overcame that and my career brought me into technology and marketing and product development... I was on the forefront of building communities and creating programs where people can interact with each other, and then I started reading on the news where kids were using social media in a way that I never even thought. Not to bring people together, but to really harm each other.”

Joel developed the program to keep parents aware of what's happening in their children's world. According to a release, My Social Sitter uses a real-time filter that rejects harmful content using an algorithm based on customized user settings, and filters including slang and sentiment in six languages.

“Today’s world of social media gives kids the opportunity to say whatever they’re thinking whenever they think it – sometimes to their own detriment,” Joel said. “But My Social Sitter instantly prevents users from posting negative social media posts, protecting them and others from harmful content.”

The app connects to a user’s Twitter account so that when messages are sent they go through multiple layers of the My Social Sitter algorithms to decide if it is appropriate based on an individual’s custom settings. Appropriate messages are posted or sent. If appropriate, it is immediately posted. If inappropriate the parents are notified.

“It gave us a way to provide something to parents and at the same time a tool to encourage students as well,” Harmon said. “The other side to the software is, that there's options for the kids to earn points for the positive things they say. We thought what a great opportunity for kids to say positive things.”

The release said that users are incentivized to use the app through gamification; for every positive message a user sends, they earn tokens, which can be redeemed for prizes.

The program is available on desktop or through an app for both Android and iPhone users.

©2016 the Palestine Herald-Press (Palestine, Texas) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.