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Delivering on the Promise of Innovation to Help Prevent CyberBullying

Following on President Obama's March 2011 Bullying Prevention Summit, Facebook, MIT, and MTV announced their efforts to help prevent cyberbullying.

Last Thursday, the 2nd Annual Bullying Summit closed with demonstrable progress on a range of important topics surfaced during President Obama’s Bullying Prevention Summit last March. Our focus last March was on the challenges and opportunities in preventing cyberbullying. In the months that followed our roundtable, we are pleased to report on two commitments in response to the White House’s “Call to Action”:

  1. Facebook pledged to invest in research grants on the most innovative approaches to bullying prevention found across our Nation’s universities and non-profits.  Last month, Facebook delivered on this promise by launching the $200,000 “Digital Citizenship Research Grant”. We look forward to celebrating the inaugural awardees when they are announced later this fall.
  2. MTV offered to collaborate with the MIT Media Lab to encourage innovative approaches to detect and deter cyberbullying.  MTV and MIT delivered on this promise by formalizing a partnership centered around “Over the Line?”, a Web and iPhone app where young people share and rate personal stories of how technology is complicating social interactions. The app has elicited a strong and empathetic response – with more than 9,000 user-submitted stories generating over 325,000 ratings – and it represents one of the largest bodies of knowledge on youth digital ethics.

The MTV/MIT collaboration invites the wider research community to learn from this anonymized dataset and gain a deeper understanding of the digital behaviors youth feel “cross the line” from innocent to inappropriate – to help fuel innovation in the realm of cyberbullying prevention. For example, MIT’s Media Lab is using findings from the “Over the Line?” dataset – which contains no personally identifiable user information – to help drive rapid, effective responses to cyberbullying incidences and even stop them before they occur. 

Where might innovation impact cyberbullying? For those subject to a cyberbullying incident, there might be comfort in learning from others experiencing a similar incident, with the possibility of personalized advice or access to resources. For social network platforms and other app developers, we envision new tools that help prioritize reports of abuse and corresponding interventions that might mitigate an escalating situation.

We understand that far more is needed to better understand root causes and innovative solutions that address cyberbullying, but we are grateful for leaders like Facebook, MTV, and MIT for moving the ball forward. We stand ready to assist in surfacing promising ideas, encouraging testing and validation, and scaling what works.

Aneesh Chopra is US Chief Technology Officer and Howard Schmidt is the President’s Cybersecurity Coordinator.