In first, Israeli app helps kids beat cyber-bullies

The online world is rife with danger, but Red Button gives users a way to fight back

Red Button app screenshots (Courtesy)
Red Button app screenshots (Courtesy)

The internet abounds with dangers for unwary users and is especially perilous for children whose inexperience renders them vulnerable to hackers, bullies, and pedophiles or worse. In response, an Israeli nonprofit called Red Button has produced the world’s first app that lets anyone, especially kids, easily report negative web behavior.

The Red Button app installs itself as a service on Android devices, and there is also an add-on version for popular web browsers like Firefox and Chrome. If an individual comes across something or someone they are uncomfortable with – such as a person who is cursing, threatening, intimidating, or inappropriately discussing personal issues – all they have to do is press a button to begin a process that can lead to taking the offending site down or arresting the offending individual.

The data gathered by the app – web and IP address, site ownership, identifying information of the offending individual – is forwarded to a group of volunteers at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (IDC), who collate the information and file complaints with the appropriate sites and/or authorities. Those can include website owners, ISPs, internet associations, and even police. The objective is to force sites to remove or ban users engaged in negative behavior, and, where possible, to track them down and make them own up to their behavior.

Currently the app works only in Israel, but Red Button is working to develop partnerships with volunteer groups in other countries to administer reports for users there, as well.

Cyber-bullying – the hounding of web users by individuals or groups – has been a major news story in recent years, the result of numerous incidents in which kids who violated the social morés of their peer group were targeted, with tragic results. Just last week, for example, police opened an investigation into the death of Ronan Hughes of County Tyrone in Northern Ireland. Police believe that the 17-year-old took his own life after being tricked into posting online “compromising images” of himself, the nature of which were not revealed.

Police in Northern Ireland appealed for help from kids in the community. “If anyone has experienced anything of a similar nature or has received any inappropriate images or links, it is important that they contact police or tell a trusted adult,” police said in a statement. “By doing this you will be helping prevent further such incidents. You will not get into trouble.”

The problem with that statement, according to Alon Bar-David, Adi Zuta, and Liron Fatouh – the three IDC students behind the Red Button app – is that it relies on voluntary efforts to collect the information. Shockingly, the three say, there is no authority – neither in Israel nor anywhere else – that is officially responsible for dealing with cyber-bullying and other negative Internet behavior. Where officialdom fails, the citizenry must step in, the three believe. Hence the Red Button app.

The Red Button organization, which is sponsoring and funding the app, was established about a year and a half ago to deal with the increasing danger of cyber-bullying. Thousands of Israelis have joined since then, committing to report incidents of cyber-bullying, threats, cursing, and suspected pedophilia activities.

Several months ago, Facebook chose Red Button as a worldwide partner to encourage cyber-safety, with the Israeli group helping Facebook track down individual and group pages that spew hatred, racism, anti-Semitism, and other content Facebook doesn’t want to be associated with.

In Israel – with statistics that Red Button says are similar to those found elsewhere – 45% of web users aged 10-17 say that they are victims of online abuse of some sort; only 20% of them report it to anyone. The group said it had received nearly 7,500 reports of online verbal violence in 2014, about one-third of them on Facebook.

There’s no need, nor excuse, to allow that to continue, according to app co-creator Bar-David.

“Studies show that 81% of kids age 12 and older today are active users of cellphones and smartphones. We realized that we needed to develop an app to enable youths to report on online violence from their devices. We hope that the app will make online activities safer for Israelis and people around the world.”

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