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New app monitors cyberbullying

BOULDER, Colo. -- Researchers at CU Boulder say they have a new approach to spotting those nasty personal attacks on social media that is fast, accurate and different from anything else on the market.

A new app called BullyAlert will notify parents when their child is possibly being bullied on Instagram.

Shivakant Mishra is a computer science professor at CU Boulder who helped develop the app.  He says parents will receive alerts within two hours of any potential cyberbullying, and research shows this app is 70 percent accurate.

Of course the definition of cyberbullying can be very subjective. “It actually varies from person to person, culture to culture,” Mishra said.

Other apps may offer to search posts for certain negative words.  But this app is different.  It learns.

Researchers used real people to teach the program how to separate benign online comments from abuse. Also, the parents give feedback after each alert, so the program can learn what each parent considers cyberbullying, and customize its approach. “It adapts to the user's definition of what cyberbullying is,” Mishra said.

The app also prioritizes posts to scan, looking for repeated aggressive behavior that shows an imbalance of power.  It’s information that could help parents. Mishra said, “I believe that it will relieve some stress for the parents.”

The new app is free for Android users. It is expected to be available on iPhones sometime in the fall.

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