Cracking the cyberbullies’ secret language could save lives

TO PARENTS they may seem like a bewildering jumble of letters – but these coded messages could provide the first clue that their children are self-harming, being bullied or groomed online, or even driven to suicide.

Teenagers and predators alike are using their own language and collection of acronyms on Facebook and other social networking sites to conceal the true nature of their conversations.

Among the danger signs are the acronyms ‘Dirl’, meaning ‘die in real life’, which is used by cyberbullies to urge victims to kill themselves, and ‘gnoc’ – ‘getting naked on camera’ – used to lure young people into getting undressed. Other terms may at first seem innocuous. ‘Bio-oil’ is a skincare product, but on chat forums such as Ask.fm it can indicate self-harm scars, while the hashtag #cutfor is used on Twitter to promote selfharming in a twisted attempt to honour a celebrity.

Research body CNGL – Centre for Global Intelligent Content – has been working on software that can fight cyberbullying by identifying such dangerous phrases.

The team is currently working on a programme that could be used with social media sites and forums and could pinpoint instances of cyberbullying or abusive language in text messages. It could then filter out the phrases – or report them to teachers, parents or website moderators.

DCU researcher Johannes Lev-eling said that the software could be used in classrooms to alert teachers or counsellors to potential bullying or self-harm.

If a student searches for the term ‘clavicle’, for example, a screenshot would be sent to the teacher with an explanation that the word is often used by anorexics seeking pictures of girls with protruding collarbones.

CNGL intends to showcase the technology at the National Cyberbullying Conference in Dublin this  September.

Jim Harding, founder of charity Bully4U, said the victims of cyberbullying are getting younger all the time.

When Bully4U started providing workshops in schools, victims were ‘no younger than 11’, he said.

‘Now, children as young as six years of age may be affected by cyberbullying,’ Mr Harding explained, ‘because children are often given smartphones for communion or Christmas and so have unmonitored access to the internet.’

Mr Harding also issued a warning to parents about the app Viber, which provides users with free calls and text messages via any Wi-Fi network. The app connects people into groups and allows users to share their location to any of their contacts, resulting in a host of privacy and abuse-related concerns.

He claimed parents were often in the dark: ‘Bully4U’s work in schools is effective as parents just don’t know that their children are being bullied because victims very rarely come forward,’ he said.

In 2012 cyberbullying was linked to the suicides of Erin Gallagher, 13, and her sister Shannon, 15, from Ballybofey, Co. Donegal and Ciara Pugsley, 15, from Co. Leitrim.

Expert calls for an EU law to crack down on bullies

NEW laws are needed at European level to combat cyberbullying, child law expert Dr Geoffrey Shannon has said. At the first European Union antibullying conference last month hosted as part of the Greek Presidency,

Dr Shannon said international research indicated that intervention programmes could reduce bullying and cyber bullying in schools by 20%. ‘What is required is an international super-national framework for the protection of children,’ he said.

There has been much interest in Dr Shannon’s recommendations to make cyber-bullying a crime. It was recently raised in a select committee in the House of Commons in Westminster.

From IHML (I hate my life) to Pos (parent over shoulder) … your guide to the online teen lexicon

Ana buddy/Mia buddy: Anorexic or bulimia buddy, who encourages the eating disorder.

Bbp: Banned by parents. Bio-oil: Stretch mark oil often used by those who are self-harming to minimise appearance of scars. Clavicle: Those suffering from eating disorders might use this to search for pictures of people who are very thin, as a prominent clavicle can be seen as a measure of thinness. #cutfor: Hashtag used to promote self-harm in the name of particular celebrities. #cutforJustinBiebertrended in 2013.

Dirl: Die in real life, a phrase which may be used to upset someone or encourage them to commit suicide.

Gcad: Get cancer and die. Gnoc: Get naked on camera, used to groom young people or as a form of ‘sexting’.

Gokid: Got observers, keep it decent.

Foad: F*** off and die. Fugly: F****** ugly. Hduw2bb: Hello do you want to be buddies? Possible interaction with a stranger.

Idttu: I don’t talk to you. Used to ostracise another person online. Ih8p: I hate parents.

IHML: I hate my life. Iw2mu: I want to meet you. Suggests possible meet-up with a stranger.

Jlma: Just leave me alone. Kpc: Keeping parents clueless. Lggd: Let’s go get drunk. Miw: Mum is watching.

Mmas: Meet me after school. Mos: Mum over shoulder. Np4np: Naked pic for naked pic. Offering to swap pornographic pictures with others online. Oreo: Racist slang for a black person who is ‘trying to be white’.

Our x: Our secret, used by abusers to encourage victims not to speak out.

Pcrs: Parents can read slang. P3n15/V4gIn4: Code for penis or vagina.

Pos/Pob: Parent over shoulder or parent over back.

Taw: Teachers are watching. Water loading: Technique used by those with eating disorders to increase body weight.

Code hides true nature of online conversations

‘Children as young as six may be affected’

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