How Apps of the Future Will Spot Bullying

Discover how sentiment analysis and natural language processing spot bullying

teen boy's hands on smartphone

Parents today can be overwhelmed when trying to keep up with their child’s online activity. As a result, many parents just give up trying and often fail to spot troubling behavior like bullying, threats, sexting, and even possible mental health issues like depression and suicide.

But technology experts are hoping to make the job of spotting things like cyberbullying, threats and thoughts of suicide posted online easier to detect.

Although the human language is dauntingly complex for a computer to understand, experts are hoping that using natural language processing and sentiment analysis can make spotting bullying and other unhealthy behaviors easier.

What Are Natural Language Processing and Sentiment Analysis?

The goal of natural language processing is to get a computer to understandably read a line of text and translate the meaning. The ultimate goal of NLP is to build software that will analyze, understand and generate human languages naturally enabling communication with the computer or device as if it were human.

Imagine talking to your computer and having it talk back fluidly in a conversational manner. Apple’s Siri is a great example of where NLP will be taking us. As NLP technology advances and makes it way even further into our daily lives, computers will have a much easier time understanding us. That means that speech recognition and command technologies will be a whole lot more useful.

Another useful tool is sentiment analysis, which aims to determine the attitude of a speaker or writer. The attitude may be his judgment or evaluation of something. Or, it could be the emotional state of the person doing the writing or posting, such as depressed or angry. Or it could be the intended purpose of the communication or the effect the author wants to have on the reader.

In other words, sentiment analysis would be able to detect when someone is being mean or bullying someone online.

Why is this important to bullying prevention and intervention?

With so much reliance on computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones in school and at home, students are increasingly turning to social media to express themselves. What’s more, in the majority of tragedies involving teenagers, both the perpetrators and the victims usually showed signs of troubling behavior through posts on social media.

Additionally, there are potentially millions posts by teenagers on social media across the globe that need attention for mental health issues or bullying challenges but are otherwise going unnoticed by parents and school administrators. If companies can develop technologies that alert parents and school officials to potential problems such as bullying, self-harm, threats of violence, depression and suicide, then some tragedies might be avoided.

Are companies out there providing this technology?

Securly, Inc., a cloud-based provider of Internet Security for grades K-12 has a similar technology available for schools and parents. Using sentiment analysis and NLP, their software determines the sentiment of students’ online posts and reports to school administrators. By doing so, they are able making the process of determining online issues easier for schools.

Meanwhile, another company, VISR, scans children’s online accounts for safety issues and other threats. It alerts parents only if there’s a problem. The company also uses sentiment analysis and NLP to better understand the content of children’s posts. What’s more, according to the company the app improves over time.

Parents essentially help train the app by responding to the alerts and marking them as a real issue or a false alarm. This includes high-level categories like bullying, which may then include sub-categories like insulting someone’s character, exclusion, or threats. VISR also watches for things like sexting, explicit content, violence, drugs, late night usage and mental health concerns like depression, self-harm, and suicide.


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