Schools monitoring online bullying with slang translation software

Program used at 1,400 schools, which also tracks self-harm, checks internet communications against dictionary of slang

The Guardian, 25/1/2014, United Kingdom

More than a thousand British schools are monitoring pupils' online communication for bullying and self-harm using software that analyses and translates slang for teachers.

The software uses a constantly updated dictionary which includes words that most adults would not understand. These include acronyms such as "gnoc" (get naked on camera) and "dirl" (die in real life) and words such as Bio-Oil, a commercial product which can be used by children who self-harm to reduce the appearance of scarring.

The program also monitors more conventional vocabulary used in bullying such as homophobia and taunts of "terrorist" at children of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi descent.

The software is part of an education package made by Impero. Jonathan Valentine, a developer, said the program had alerted teachers to potential suicides.

"We originally developed the software to deal with misbehaviour, but we decided to focus on e-safety and came up with the idea of a dictionary of certain words and phrases," he told the Times Educational Supplement.

The software is used by 1,400 schools in the UK and has also been used in the US to combat gangs. It generates reports for teachers identifying problematic online behaviour.

"We usually leave it to schools to create their own lists of words, but we decided to create our own by going into schools and speaking to students directly. The list can be used by any school across the country, but can also be added to if necessary," said Valentine.

Impero has worked with the Anti-Bullying Alliance to create the dictionary which deals with sexting, suicide, grooming, self-harm, adult content, eating disorders, bullying and trolling, racism and homophobia.

The company has a similar software package which monitors workplace communications.