University’s new research and app uses artificial intelligence to put an end to cyberbullying
University of Gloucestershire is investigating how artificial intelligence (AI) could help end cyberbullying, an increasing worry for students in schools across the country.
Recent research has identified that out of 13,387 UK students aged 12–18, 27% have experienced cyberbullying, which has also affected one in five children between the ages of 10 and 15 in England and Wales.
The University has announced a new study into how AI can help reduce cyberbullying, while also launching the latest version of ‘SpeakOut!,’ an app designed for The Cyber Trust charity to help young people access the Internet safely.
Dr Qublai Ali Mirza, Senior Lecturer in Cyber Security within the University’s School of Computing and Engineering (pictured left), said: “The rise in social media and the two-year lockdown we all experienced during the Covid-19 pandemic has caused a real shift in the way people communicate, and this is particularly true for children and young people.
“Our latest research is using AI tools and techniques to detect, prevent, and respond to cyberbullying using Natural Language Processing (NLP) and predictive modelling.
“NLP algorithms instantly analyse online comments, messages and posts to identify harmful language and behaviour for review by administrators.
“As this happens, our new AI modelling software is trained to predict who is most at risk of becoming a victim of cyberbullying and takes proactive measures to prevent this.
“University of Gloucestershire is currently scaling this AI tool to launch awareness campaigns based on bullying scenarios that are identified using NLP.
“We are determined to raise awareness of the negative impacts of cyberbullying and encourage individuals to act in a more responsible and compassionate manner.”
The University’s partnership project with The Cyber Trust is making great strides with the latest version of SpeakOut!, an app featuring real life examples of how young people make choices about difficult online-issues.
Zayd Dawood, Senior Lecturer in Computing Technologies within the University’s School of Computing and Engineering (pictured below), said: “The University was commissioned to develop an app for The Cyber Trust to help young people with concerns including cyberbullying, body-image and sexting, along with advice on how to make the best decisions.
“The app provides real life examples covering a variety of dilemmas and then uses AI to offer a choice before moving onto the next part of the story. At the end you’re given a score that shows whether your decisions are positive, neutral or potentially negative.
“These are just some of the leading causes of anxiety and depression among young people today, according to our findings.
“We’ve received great feedback from our users and are now moving on to the next development phase for the app which will include expanded story content.
“We’re now asking for young people to get in touch with us at speakout.thecybertrust.org and securely share details of their own cyber experiences to help others make the right choices.”
Adam Bolas, a University Business and Marketing Management graduate and founder and CEO of Digital Woof Ltd, shared his own experiences of being bullied throughout his time at school, ranging from insults, threats and intimidation, through to physical and mental acts of violence.
“The mental damage I suffered stayed with me into adulthood and, seeing how many children are now facing even more insidious cyberbullying online, as well as other forms of exploitation by companies and individuals, I was motivated to start a company dedicated to helping break this chain of abuse,” he said.
Alex Curry, Delivery Manager at Young Gloucestershire, an organisation supporting the mental and physical wellbeing of young people in Gloucestershire, said the issue had become worse since the lockdowns during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Cyberbullying is something we deal with frequently and it’s very concerning to see it increasing,” he said. “The main support strategies we encourage are online blocking, confiding in a trusted adult, using safeguarding apps, and improved online safety skills and education.”