MIT Scientists Develop Email Software to Fight Cyber-Bullying
May 24, 2018 09:12 AM EDT
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have created new software that aims to combat cyber-bullying through email moderation.
The program is called Squadbox. It is a free online service designed to target email-based harassment. MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory developed Squadbox after interviewing victims of cyber-bullying. They found that many people relied on family and friends to protect themselves from abusive messages.
"Cyber-bullying through social networking sites and other online platforms has become a major concern for young people and their families," commented Peter Brill, a New York criminal defense attorney with Brill Legal Group. "While there are many cases in which victims experience genuine harassment, sometimes an innocent person may be charged with cyber-bullying simply due to their social media use. Individuals who are falsely accused of such online crimes should contact an attorney as soon as possible."
Squadbox allows users to designate "a squad of trusted friends, volunteers or paid moderators" to filter their email messages and prevent abusive ones from reaching them. The software is an effort to empower victims by allowing them to fight cyber-bullying using their own support network of moderators.
There are two main ways the MIT software can be used to prevent cyber-bullying. The first method is dubbed friend-sourcing and requires users to set up inbox filters with Squadbox. The moderators review suspected negative emails and then either delete or forward them to the person's inbox. The goal is to have the moderators screen for potentially harassing messages and spare the intended recipient from viewing them.
The second measure for preventing cyber-bullying involves the user receiving an email address from Squadbox to use for public forums or give to strangers. The Squadbox team monitors the messages sent to the address. Emails from genuine contacts are whitelisted and those from harassers are blacklisted.
MIT researchers have acknowledged the software has limitations. Squadbox currently only tackles cyber-bullying through email. However, the team hopes to offer their services to various social media and messaging platforms in the future.
In addition, the researchers found that using moderators was not foolproof. The participants in a small-scale Squadbox trial felt guilty about burdening friends with the task of moderating their emails. Moderators were also found to respond to email screening requests less quickly over time.
Image: Marco Verch | Flickr