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Gerard Flynn (left) and Macartan Mulligan from Xraydata.com talk about their company's efforts to stop cyber bullying in the UAE. Sammy Dallal / The National
Gerard Flynn (left) and Macartan Mulligan from Xraydata.com talk about their company's efforts to stop cyber bullying in the UAE. Sammy Dallal / The National

New software to alert UAE parents to cyberbullying

Xraydata.com wanted to introduce the service in the UAE first because the country liked to set standards and trends.

Parents will soon be given the chance to stop their children from becoming victims, or perpetrators, of online bullying.

A new piece of software, developed by Xraydata.com, will alert parents if their children are being attacked, excluded or emotionally abused on online social networks - or if they are the ones doing the attacking.

According to the Xraydata.com co-founder, Macartan Mulligan, it is the first software of this kind developed in English and Arabic, and the first to work with anonymous social network Ask.fm. It will also work with Facebook and Twitter, monitoring children's behaviour.

"Even though those websites are all set up with the best intentions and are fantastic sites which offer great benefits to a lot of people, unfortunately, teenagers and children are so brave on these sites that it can tend to lead to cyber-bullying and totally unacceptable behaviour in general.

"The nature of cyberbullying is it's a group thing - even a good child can become a cyberbully just by liking a post or a nasty photo."

Cyberbullying, he said, had always been about, but began snowballing with the advent of smartphones - especially as it became common for children to use them.

"Children know they have a playground that isn't supervised. And they can't touch the pain - when you bully face-to-face it's very tangiable, but cyberbullying is very intangible."

Mr Mulligan, a father of four, said Xraydata.com wanted to introduce the service in the UAE first because the country liked to set standards and trends.

"It's not just about keyboards, it's about sentiment too. It doesn't just look for a full-out blatant 'I am going to beat you up. I am going to exclude you' - it works on the theme and the tone of comments."

Parents of cyberbullying victims will be able to see malicious comments, but not who has sent them. They will, however, be able to see such comments if left by their own children.

Additionally, the software will only report serious incidents to parents, so they will not be unnecessarily monitoring all their children's activity.

"It will allow parents to be notified only if there's really negative stuff going on. Parents can dictate what levels of threats of physical violence, threats of emotional abuse and threats of exclusion, for example, they would like to be notified of when they sign up with us. When our software system recognises there is a potential threat, it then still goes through our team of human moderators before it goes to a parent."

The software was not, according to the brand ambassador and educational consultant, Gerard L Flynn, about "policing".

Mr Flynn, a former headteacher, has more than 30 years of experience working in education across the world. He said cyberbullying was a burgeoning problem that would worsen over time if something was not done about it.

"First and foremost, this is about education. I'm totally convinced that the vast majority of children do not set out to bully.

"Peer pressure can be so great that people just go along - a recent article compared it to Lord of the Flies. In that book, you had a group of children who had no parental supervision and suddenly turned into savages against the weaker members of their group.

"What we want to do ideally is to not just have parents sign up as individuals but to go through schools and act as a cooperative within the schools. So, all the pupils within a school would sign up and you can have a school who are going to have really effective and worthwhile policy - one that will have numerous positive side effects that you can look at, and children who will really learn a phenomenal lesson in life."

Mr Flynn said: "One of the real tragedies of cyberbullying is the cases where young children have responded by committing suicide."

He added the software would help parents before it was too late, to identify problems they would not otherwise know about and help stop their children from living in misery.

The service will be available from Xraydata.com from October 1 and will cost US$180 (Dh661) per child per year. The website's sister website, nobullying.com, contains a vast amount of information on cyberbullying.

 

halbustani@thenational.ae

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