The internet and social media have certainly made the world feel like a smaller place by keeping us connected. However, 24/7 access to the world can also mean never fully disconnecting from others, even when it can be toxic and harmful.
Unfortunately, many people use social media as a way to bully others. This cyberbullying has been an issue, particularly for teenagers, for some time. Studies show 59% of adolescents have experienced some form of cyberbullying in their lives.
Yet, screen time continues to go up for this age group, especially with many students engaged in online learning due to the coronavirus outbreak. If cutting back screen time isn’t a viable solution to the cyberbullying problem, then what can be done?
One 15-year-old student from the Denver, Colorado, area decided to use technology to solve a modern problem by creating an app to help detect cyberbullying. Gitanjali Rao developed Kindly to raise awareness and help prevent cyberbullying right where it happens: online
Here’s a Twitter post she wrote, which links to a blog outlining her commitment to technology as a way of solving community problems:
.@UNICEF is aiming to make a difference in today's society by looking at the world "reimagined" after these uncertain times. To join in on the effort, I wanted to share my perspective on cyber-safety. Check out the blog here: https://t.co/AuZ5Xf32On
— Gitanjali Rao (@gitanjaliarao) June 3, 2020
Rao is a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) promoter who has won many awards including “America’s Top Young Scientist.” She also landed a spot on the Forbes “30 Under 30 List.” She is constantly researching ways to improve education, the environment, and the quality of life and sharing her experiencing online.
Rao has already published a book and developed devices to detect lead in water and poisonous snake bites. She appeared on “The Tonight Show” at age 12, demonstrating how her invention Tethys worked to an impressed Jimmy Fallon.
Apparently, she’s working on more than one thing at the same time. Currently, she is designing personal protection equipment for schools, according to this Twitter post:
— Gitanjali Rao (@gitanjaliarao) August 12, 2020
How does her new program work? The Kindly standalone app and Chrome browser extension use natural language processing and adaptive artificial intelligence to monitor speech. Once someone downloads Kindly onto their web browser or smartphone, the program can read the text entered into the device (through places like Gmail, Instagram, and Twitter) and automatically search for trigger words and phrases.
For example, if a user types something like “I will hurt you in school today,” the plug-in or app will flash a bullying warning and block any attempt to send the text. In a way, it gives people a chance to stop and think before sending threatening messages online.
It’s our turn to make a difference in society and to do what’s best for our peers,” Rao wrote in a recent blog post for UNICEF. “I wanted to share this with you to empower all of you to make a change in your life about how you use technology. One kind message, one person saved from suicide, and one person feeling safer on the internet is a success for all of us.”
You can download the app for free via the website. It is currently in its unfinished beta version, so it is not available at Google Play or in the App Store yet and the site is asking for feedback. Note that there are several other apps with the same name currently available.