Tackling cyberbullying in schools – Locking down the system

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A 2015 back to school survey revealed that 65% of children aged 8-11 in the UK own a smartphone. The internet and social media are now well and truly in our primary classrooms. While many schools have rolled out a phone ban during school hours, it is very difficult to enforce this. In addition, the widespread access to internet-enabled devices has enabled the rise of the cyberbully.

The rise of the cyberbully

Access to the internet and social media channels are the reasons for the rise of the cyberbully. But, they alone cannot drive negative behaviour. Social media and the net are meant to be used positively; to learn about the world, connect with friends and family.

Children act out what they see in their environment. On social media they are openly exposed to people being torn down for their looks, an opinion being smashed and trolls stirring controversy for the sake of it. This behaviour is what is emulated and gives rise to the cyberbully.

Many believe it is up to the social networks to tackle this. The sheer scale makes this impossible. We also need to remember, these networks are not made for children.

Counteracting the trend with a locked down system

The structure of the most popular networks like Facebook or Snapchat do not lend themselves to be locked down or even restricted to make them safe for children to use. There is also no way for children to slowly be introduced to these platforms. Kids are confronted with the world in their palm of their hands and they simply don’t know how to process all the information. Nevermind the behaviour.

This is where a locked down system can help. What we mean by a locked down system, is a social network made for children that does not allow unverified kids to join and offers a monitoring system and behavioural technology to teach good online etiquette.

The involvement of schools in a system like this is vital to ensure verification of children and to assist in the educational element of online etiquette. Within CyberSmarties, a locked down social media network for primary school children, notifications of attempted bullying are shared with the class teacher so he or she can react early. It also holds a variety of learning materials that help teachers tackle the subject of cyberbullying in their classrooms.

Getting kids and schools involved at primary level is key to creating a safe and educational experience online. Together, we can approach the subject in schools, at home and online.

CyberSmarties is available for free for primary schools. Complete our signup form to find out more.

 

Click here to Sign Up

Tackling cyberbullying in schools – Locking down the system was originally published on Cybersmarties Blog

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Are we taking cyberbullying seriously enough?

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The internet and social media have grown at lightening speed. Today, our children are born as digital natives (those who can’t recall a time without the internet) and most of us use Facebook, Twitter and other networks daily. But, with the rise of the networks, we have also seen the rise of cyberbullying.

What are children saying about cyberbullying?

In the “Net Children Go Mobile” a UK report funded by the EU, it’s outlined that 21% of children aged 9-16 reported being bullied. This is a 2013 report and since then numbers have increased with more children being exposed to social media.

Children aged 10-18 were asked earlier this year in an Internetmatter.org survey in the UK whether social media companies take bullying seriously enough. Half said they don’t.

The stats are startling. As parents, teachers and guardians of our children, we have to find a better way to keep our children safe online.

Fundamental issues

There are fundamental issues that have to be addressed to find the solution. The initial one is taking a close look at the existing social networks and how they safeguard children. It is done in quite a straightforward way: an age limit is set (generally in the early teens) under which a child should not be able to have an account. These age limits are quickly bypassed and suddenly children are exposed to adult content (jokes, violence, sexual references etc).

This takes us right to the next issue. Children are exposed to social networks without any learning curve. Think about learning how to ride a bike. Before you let your child cycle on the road, you help him or her learn how to cycle safely with stabilisers and then move on to the next step when your child is ready. When it comes to social media, children are thrown right in the deep end.

Once in the deep end, children emulate others. Considering the volume of negative and throw-away comments, it is easy to see how children can quickly replicate this behaviour and see it as the norm on social.

Changing how we approach social media

Social media is a fantastic resource for all of us. We can stay in touch with friends and family far and wide, receive the freshest news and the occasional chuckle. This is what our children should experience. To make this happen, we need to change the approach we take to social media and start teaching our children.

It is difficult for children to understand how a comment sent and seen without body language can be interpreted as hurtful. They are not aware of this impact. This awareness needs to come from home and school where children already learn how to behave in the real world. These same rules should apply online where etiquette of being nice, please & thank you, and not hurting others verbally should be just the same as in the offline space.

It is unlikely that the large social networks will be able to do this. The simple reason, their platforms are built for adults not children.

Our suggested approach is simple;
1. Integrate social media and online behaviour into primary schools’ curriculums
2. Make conversations at home about social media easier through shared resources
3. Allow children to learn social media in a safe, monitored and fun environment just for them.

CyberSmarties helps teachers and parents teach better social etiquette to children while providing a social network just for kids. Just like the other social networks it is free. But, unlike others, it performs child authentication, combats bullying through technology and teaches positive behaviour online through unique behavioural technology.

CyberSmarties is simple to set up in your school. When you sign up, we contact you to discuss your school’s needs and how you can get everyone involved:

Click here it to Sign Up

Are we taking cyberbullying seriously enough? was originally published on Cybersmarties Blog

Uprise Festival and CyberSmarties

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Wenqian Xu
System Administrator of Cybersmarties Ltd.

Last Thursday, CyberSmarties team took the early train from Limerick to Dublin to attend the Uprise Festival event because we were one of the Team Ireland Pitch Battle Finalists. During the event, huge numbers of people came to our stand and showed great interest. As a technical guy, I’m the man who usually stands behind the team and is less talkative. However, that day, I was affected by the enthusiasm of all the people because I see more and more people realizing the importance of online safety for children and cyberbullying is becoming a serious issue in social media, especially for the young kids.

It’s interesting that when I briefly described CyberSmarties by saying – “CyberSmarties is the first safe educational social network for primary school kids to deal with cyberbullying”, the first reaction of people is always like “Oh, it’s great to have a social network solution to deal with cyberbullying”, then here question comes – “How can you keep children safe online?”

Most existing solutions is to create a filter to scan and block bad content on Facebook, Twitter etc. Our solution is to create a separate locked-down platform only for kids. Two reasons of not creating a standard filter are:
1) There is no 100% guarantee of any content filters to ensure they can block all bad content. If any bad images, messages, videos bypass the filter, even only one case, it still harasses and harms children and make them feel upset;
2) Social media is not only on the desktop browser, like Instagram and Snapchat, they are purely mobile apps. It is very hard for existing filters to extend their protection across multiple platforms.

So, why not create a locked-down platform just for kids and have a SMART content filter which not just picks up bad words but teaches the child why that word shouldn’t be used? This is positive education and teaches positive behaviour. Simply blocking bad words does not change behaviour. Here comes CyberSmarties. Firstly, in our current platform, only two user roles are allowed in our platform – Teachers and Student. Secondly, we authenticate each Student account as a real kid. CyberSmarties is the first social network to authenticate each child as a real child. Before our technology, there were no platforms or companies who could claim that every account is a real person on their system and more importantly that that adult is not posing as a child. Lastly, we hold the zero-tolerance policy in our platform which means when any cyberbullying cases occur, the person who did cyberbullying will be knocked off the system immediately.

As Diarmuid Hudner, CEO of CyberSmarties said, “There is nothing wrong with social media, kids just haven’t been shown how to use it properly.” So, we created Behavioural Technology including SMART Content Filter Module, Emotional Flag Report Module, Reward Module, I’m Feeling Sad Module etc. to teach positive behaviour to kids. We also have a Guidebook which is integrated with the SPHE curriculum for teachers to help them educate their students. We noticed that currently, the common way of schools to teacher cyber safety is to have someone come to the school and give a talk for one day on Cyber Safety. However, not only is this a one-off talk, does not use technology though the kids are using technology, but it is similar to the difference between the driving theory test and the practical test. You can’t drive well with only knowing the theory of how to drive. You need to practice on the road, make mistakes, learn from them and improve. It’s the same with learning cyber safety. Kids will very easily forget what they learnt from a talk, they need practice and regular practice. So, here comes CyberSmarites. Kids can learn how to protect themselves online in our safe locked-down controlled system. Our research with Cybersmarties found that students in 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th class in primary schools will form good behavioural habits and abandon bad behaviour. Cybersmarties works, positive behavioural habits are instilled very quickly and because everything on the site is positive then instances of negative behaviour are negligible. Only in this way will the future generation of users on social media use it differently than how it is used today and begin to shift positivity into the mainstream.

Last but not least, recently if you noticed our loading page, you will find that our link has changed from http://cybersmarties.com to https://cybersmarties.com which is the same prefix as many bank websites etc. because we implement HTTPS to our services. HTTPS is a protocol for secure communication over the internet. However, you can still visit us via the previous link because it will direct to our new link automatically. Above all, CyberSmarties team always keeps updating and adds more features to protect our kids and eliminate cyberbullying.

Thanks a million for your time of reading my blog. Hope to see you next time.

Uprise Festival and CyberSmarties was originally published on Cybersmarties Blog

Guests of the Nation

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Diarmuid Hudner
CEO of Cybersmarties Ltd.

A situation happened on the doorstep of my office last week that gave me cause to reflect on myself and society in general. It was one of those things that happen which you can choose to ignore and pretend it hasn’t happened or get involved. With regret I have to say it took me 24 hours to react.

Our office is one of the old Georgian buildings in Limerick City, beautiful to look at but in winter would make a polar bear sneeze. On either side of the stone steps leading up to the front door there are what are architecturally known as “Light Wells” but would be commonly called basement areas. In their heyday, these basements would have been the kitchens to the gentry living there, and the space outside these allowed sunlight into the kitchens. The building next to me is unoccupied, and as I turned the key in the door, I caught sight of the view of legs in the basement area to the left below. Looking down I could see that there was a man and woman standing down there. From their clothing, they looked homeless and seeing me, stood back into the darkness so as not to be seen. At the time as I was busy, I did not give much thought to the matter and carried on with my work.

Later that day, I stood outside the door as is my habit, to take in the sounds and sights of the City, as I find it helpful to clear my mind. I had completely forgotten about my new neighbours until I had stood outside, and craned my neck to see if they were still there. Again I saw just the legs of these people standing against the wall. I always give to people begging on the street, but then I would walk on, content in the knowledge I had done my part, but unwilling to engage with the person themselves other than to nod my head. I think most people are like this; the giving of money to someone less fortunate than oneself satisfies some moral question within us, it helps us to live with ourselves without ever having to try and get directly involved in trying to solve the problem.

Yet here were these two homeless people, in effect, outside my door. The thing that I noticed about these people was how silent they were. They said nothing to each other, stood back in the shadow of the basement, so no one would see them as if they were hiding. They did not beg or were not drinking alcohol or causing a disturbance. They were just standing there in silence. Later that afternoon I had to go out for a meeting and upon my return my neighbours were gone, vanished it seemed without a trace. On my drive home, it began to get to me.

That night I couldn’t sleep. The self-hypocrisy of what I stood for was gnawing at me. There I was running a company which espoused positive behaviour and empathy towards others and standing outside my door were people who really needed my help yet I had done nothing. I made a promise then that I would help them if I met them again, but that annoyed me too since they had already left and the “next time I meet them I will do something” promise I made, seemed very hollow and fake.

As luck would have it, my neighbours had returned from their travels and were back again the following morning. Now my opportunity had come so I had to act. Getting some sandwiches and drinks, I walked down the steps to them and was surprised how they backed away from me, afraid almost of being discovered. I just passed over the food to put them at ease as best I could. The man put out his hand to shake mine but seeing how dirty it was, he pulled it back again quickly in shame. I continued to hold out mine until he finally shook it. There was a kindness and humility to these people I couldn’t really make sense of. I didn’t want to intrude too much at this point so I said my goodbye’s and left. Over the last few days I have met them every day and slowly they have begun to tell me their story. They are brother and sister. Their names are John and Marie, in their late 50’’s and have been on the streets since April. They had been sharing a flat in sheltered accommodation, but a disagreement between John and his neighbours, who were drinking and causing trouble, resulted in John being evicted. Marie was allowed to stay, but out of loyalty and concern for her brother, she left with him and now both are living on the streets.

I don’t know what will happen to John and Marie. I have made some calls but so far haven’t had much luck so I will keep trying. The Gardaí moved them on for a day following someone making a complaint but where are they supposed to go. As John said to me “We are all flesh and blood at the end of the day”. Their plight has affected me on some unconscious level I cannot fully understand. I had read somewhere before that we are all only two or three paychecks away from being homeless. A wrong decision and some bad luck could have anyone of us being in John and Marie’s situation and that’s frightening. What is equally as frightening to me is that it took their presence outside my door for me to do anything about it, to really see homeless people as being people who have a story, a name, something to say. It is easy to go off on a rant about the government or the banks but that is only deflection really as we know by now nothing is going to ever change there. All that is left is the decision you make as an individual whether to be help or not on a daily basis. Unfortunately I found myself lacking in this respect when it occurred initially, but now I feel I am learning for the better for having met John and Marie.

Guests of the Nation was originally published on Cybersmarties Blog

Online Parks

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Brendan Woodage
Operations at CyberSmarties

CyberSmarties took a two week break from work recently. After our first eight months of tirelessly working towards our goal of creating a safe space for children online, we decided that it was time for some time off. My colleagues immediately used this time to both spend time with their kids, and visit their parents, while I spent my time off catching up on boxsets and taking trips to my local park.

Now I’m forever observing. I enjoy sitting back and watching. I enjoy learning my surroundings and analysing and understanding who and what is in my immediate vicinity. So although my holidays were spent relaxing, I still managed to learn a lesson or two.

I journeyed to the park five times over my time off. There was this particular spot under a large tree that I went to that was near the playing field in case I wanted to go for a run, but also gave me a good view of the rest of the park. Each day that I sat there with my headphones on, I’d see the same faces. There were the same boys out kicking a football around, the same people walking their dogs, and the same mothers or fathers out with their kids. It was this that got me thinking. As a child I lived in England and there was a park that I used to visit called Victoria Park, across the road from my house. My parents would bring my siblings and I to the park every opportunity they had and it was there that I learned to ride my first bike, where I first went to kick a ball with my dad, etc. I remember wanting to spend all of my time there, to explore the park by myself. But my mother told me that you couldn’t stay at the park forever and that I was not allowed to go to the park by myself until I was old enough. By the time I was old enough, we had moved to Ireland. The thing is that as I watched the people at the park in Limerick, I realised that the same thing was happening here. Kids were having their first experiences here. You could see their love for the park growing. They were building up memories with their parents, learning how to do new things, being social, and having fun. Even the teenagers who were playing ball were having a great time.

And so, this park; in my eyes, reminds me of the internet and social media. It’s a place where you can socialise, meet friends, have fun, and learn new things. But you wouldn’t let your kids go to the park by themselves if there weren’t old enough just like you shouldn’t let kids be on grown up social networks when they’re not old enough. Cybersmarties Fully Monitored System is the age appropriate safe stepping stone to teach kids how to behave, be safe and communicate online. It is the stabilisers of the bike. The kids are going to move on to other social networks as they grow older, and explore different parks. But making sure that they’ve learned the right skills to protect themselves before they venture out into the wider world is a must, and with CyberSmarties, not only do we have interactive games and coding lessons, jokes, competitions, and daily positive reinforcement, but we have behavioural technology to ensure that when the child moves to their next social network, that they’ll be safe, educated, and happy, free to enjoy an “online park” which is creative, nurturing, fun, educational and above all is safe.

Online Parks was originally published on Cybersmarties Blog

FEAR – False Evidence Appearing Real

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Diarmuid Hudner
CEO of Cybersmarties Ltd.

Recently I saw the above acronym for the word “Fear”. I thought it was very apt and how unfortunately most people experience fear without seeing it for what it is. Like power which I wrote about recently, Fear is also an illusion. Everyone experiences fear at some stage of their lives and the majority of us live with some form of it on a daily basis. Fear comes in many guises; fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of success, physical fear and social fear like a fear of public speaking or how we look. Fears do appear very real to us no matter how much of an illusion they are and they can be crippling, suffocating and draining. So what causes these fears and how are they overcome? The one common denominator between them is that something can be done to overcome them. All of us have negative behavioural habits based in fear. They govern the extent to which we live a fulfilling life or reach our full potential.

Negative Behavioural Habits are routines we have picked up over time, normally linked to something that has occurred in our lives, like we spoke in public once and everyone laughed. Others are those which are pre-conditioned from our upbringing. If our parents were very cautious, risk adverse people then it is likely that we would be too as we associate any type of risk with danger. Negative habits we have learned, however difficult can be broken. Positive behavioural triggers can be implemented to cause a reflex positive response instead of a negative one. It takes work and effort but the reward is greater than to live in fear.

Confidence and self-belief in my opinion is at the root of most of these fears and it begins when we were children. We learn a lot in school, the politics of friendship, the travesty of love scorned; school can be tough. How much different do you think your life would be today if your confidence had been boosted every day? Do you think you would have made different decisions in your life, better decisions? I believe I would certainly have made different life choices if I had been a more confident child. I would not have procrastinated and let opportunities slip away, would have attempted new things more often because I would not have been afraid of rejection or failure. Luckily I was later in a position which taught me how to change these negative habits into positive ones where fear no longer was in the driving seat but it took time and effort.

I think there is an onus on parents to ensure their children are as confident and self-reliant as they can possibly be. I think that is one of the gifts a parent can pass on to their children, not their own insecurities but rather to ensure their children have very few of them. Parents can’t rely on teachers to do this, it’s time we took ownership of that. At Cybersmarties we look after their online confidence, that’s all we do; protect them, keep them safe, fill them with confidence and teach them positive behavioural habits. We’re in this together.

FEAR – False Evidence Appearing Real was originally published on Cybersmarties Blog