Cyberbuddy as Childline 2.0
Many parents are concerned about online bullying on social media, and an innovation like the cyberbuddy can help children who are the victims of such bullying.
Four percent of Dutch children are bullied online, and the same bullies often threaten them in real life too, which makes it easier for parents and teachers to take action. Cyberbuddies can help in the fight against online bullying by providing victims with social support and advice. A prototype was developed and tested as part of this project.
What is the best way to fight online bullying? A socially-responsible innovation was developed and tested as part of this project: a cyberbuddy, or online friend, that can help by providing social support and advice. Participants in a focus group session with cyberbullying experts were cautiously positive about the possibilities for implementing the digital friend.
The biggest challenge facing the interdisciplinary research team was to make sure that the cyberbuddy could hold a meaningful conversation with a victim of online bullying. To provide social support, a dialogue model and an emotional model were first combined:
- The dialogue model determines the path that the conversation takes – the questions and answers – and is based on theoretical knowledge on how human advisors conduct such conversations. The model was validated based on an analysis of the content of chats from the Pestweb archive.
- The cyberbuddy’s emotional model determines the facial expressions that it uses and the moments at which it provides emotional support (by expressing sympathy, giving a compliment or encouraging the user).
Because it did not matter exactly when the cyberbuddy expressed emotions, the two models were combined in a single prototype with two versions: one in GOAL programming language for offline use, and a web-based version.
This project studied the relationship between online bullying, physical health and educational achievement amongst more than 400 children. The study showed that online bullying, like offline bullying, can affect the physical well-being of children.
Online bullying is, however, less common and often less extreme than parents fear, based on the extreme cases that they hear about in the news. Four percent of Dutch children are victims of online bullying, and are often also bullied in the real world by the same perpetrators. This makes it easier for parents and teachers to take action, compared with an anonymous bully.
The idea is that children who are victims of bullying can talk to their “cyberbuddy”. Their online friend could, for example, advise them to talk to an adult, and children may find this easier through an online chat. Their online friend could also give them advice on how to block bullies on particular sites (such as Habbo Hotel).
A graphics agency helped the researchers give the virtual character a credible, fun appearance, explain the researchers in an interview in the TU Delft magazine Delta. The character ended up looking like a cartoon version of an old computer, called Robin, who looks like he knows a thing or two about the digital world.
An online experiment was carried out to assess the feeling of support that the cyberbuddy gave when expressing verbal and non-verbal emotions. As it turned out, there was no difference. In other words, the simplest system (which did not express emotions) worked just as well as the most complex system (which did express emotions).
cyberbuddy, social support, chatting, online health and safety, online health and safety, cyberbullying, internet safety, children, well-being, emotional support, preventionOfficial project title: