Schools turn to smart phone apps in bid to identify bullies and help victims

Daily Brew
The Ice BlackBox app the camera turns the camera on immediately establishing a connection to the ICE BlackBox servers, sending all video, audio and GPS information picked up from that moment on. (Screengrab courtesy iceblackbox.com)

Try explaining to a student that an app will save them from bullying.

Schools are now turning to anti-bullying apps to try to control online harassment, as issues such as the Rehtaeh Parsons and Amanda Todd cases caused the teenage bullying debate to rear its ugly head.

The way these apps work differ, but most operate by the same premise. Take the app Ice BlackBox, for instance. Once launched, the camera turns on immediately establishing a connection to the ICE BlackBox servers, sending all video, audio and GPS information picked up from that moment on. This allows the user to identify and capture vital information about their situation and/or the confrontation. It also enables the user to call 911 and, at the same time, text message their contacts with links to the recordings.

[ Related: N.S. cyberbullying investigative unit a 1st in Canada ]

Other apps, such as InTouch’s TipOff app work a little differently. Introduced by the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board in Ontario, it is basically an anonymous texting service for students who experience bullying or harassment. Tips submitted to TipOff are shared with the appropriate school, where normal school and Board protocols will be followed.

Understandably, the creators believe students will find the apps as a better alternative than reporting bullies to adults. Victims of bullying in today’s schools fear retaliation for “snitching”, and are often threatened for trying to bring it to attention. But while there are some advantages to these apps, it does not seem like a revolutionary way of tackling bullying.

Suspending or expelling students who are guilty of bullying doesn’t seem to help.

The fact that school boards are turning to technology to help deal with the issue does not give a good portrayal of their handle on the situation. With teen suicide a disturbingly common result of bullying, especially online, the problem is real and will probably take some time to find a clear-cut solution.

[ Related: Quebec bullying victim finds respect with social media plea ]

Shaheen Shariff, director of Define the Line, told the CBC "If the schools don't know how to deal with [these reports]," said Shariff, "then we're no further ahead."

For the past victims’ sake, let’s find a solution soon.