Tackling Cyberbullying through Research and Mobile Innovation

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Did you know 42% of youth have experienced cyberbullying, and of this group, 54% became depressed or anxious, 21% skipped school, and nearly 16% used alcohol or drugs to cope? It’s a sad reality that YTH (Youth Tech Health) recently discovered in a study by the Vodafone Americas Foundation that analyzes the current cyberbullying landscape.

In October 2016, YTH and the Foundation held a briefing in New York City to present findings from the study and bring together experts and key stakeholders to put the research to action. It was an incredibly special event as we also had young people bravely share their personal cyberbullying experiences with the group. To be in a room with allies who want to create safer online experiences for youth was inspiring and invigorating. However, our research is just half of the story.

Putting Research into Action

Our plan was to use the results of the study to launch a youth-led design to create a solution to combat cyberbullying. With continued support from the Vodafone Americas Foundation, YTH partnered with Huckleberry Youth Programs, an outstanding youth-serving organization in the Bay Area, to leverage the data from the study and drive real life impact. Huckleberry Youth Program’s ultimate mission is to “educate, inspire, and support under served youth to develop healthy life choices, to maximize their potential, and to realize their dreams.” Through our partnership, we came together around their Wellness Academy, which offers comprehensive college access and health career exposure programs to teenagers.

As a result, I led nine girls from Huckleberry’s Wellness Academy for a four-week youth-centered health design workshop to identify tech solutions to cyberbullying. The team of girls shared personal experiences and community stories on cyberbullying and used them as a foundation to brainstorm larger ideas to tackle the issue.

Backed with data from the study, the youth recognized that a mobile application could potentially help tackle a number of key issues related to cyberbullying. For example:

  • Social Isolation: One of the main common threads recognized by the group among cyberbullying victims was the social isolation victims felt. They believed that creating a platform where victims could positively connect with others would be a profound benefit to overcoming the negative mental health effects of being targeted online.
  • Helplessness: Helplessness was also identified as another common feeling among victims. Unfortunately, what was profoundly troubling was the lack of support from adults and the fact that schools do not have the resources or training to appropriately respond to cyberbullying. With these insights, the team of girls worked together to identify some necessary features for an app to help people appropriately respond to cyberbullying.
  • Documentation: Since people sometimes don’t see the targeted abuse, the girls created a well-rounded model for the app that would allow young people to document a cyberbullying situation while it is happening and access local support, whether it be from peers, school administration, or local authorities. They placed significant emphasis on trying to prevent cyberbullying before it happens by creating strategies to stand up to cyberbullying where and when it occurs as well as processes to both seek and provide support during and after the situation is resolved.

Their ideas are currently being turned into a prototype, in hopes of bringing it to market. Our YTH team hope to begin development on this app in the New Year.

The girls from Huckleberry Wellness Academy were nothing short of inspiring to work with. They held all of the tragic stories of friends and peers who were cyberbullied close to their hearts when going through this process. They did not give up until they believed they had created a comprehensive guideline for a platform for young people to feel empowered to overcome their own painful cases of cyberbullying.