Technology - An A-Z of slang to combat bullying

24th January 2014 at 00:00
Software translates the terms students use to taunt each other

If a student types "gnoc" into their computer, should you be worried? If they tap out "dirl", should they be disciplined? Should the use of skincare product Bio-Oil concern you?

Teachers who are unsure of the answers might want to turn to a new "urban dictionary" of slang that will help them to crack down on bullying and other inappropriate online behaviour.

The dictionary is part of a computer program that scans online activity in schools for words or acronyms deemed offensive or damaging to students, and then sends a report to teachers. It is the brainchild of software company Impero, which has worked closely with the Anti-Bullying Alliance, eating disorder charity B-eat, students and teachers to compile a glossary of terms that will trigger an alert.

The dictionary is split into nine sections dealing with issues such as sexting, suicide, grooming, self-harm, adult content, eating disorders, bullying and trolling, and racist and homophobic language.

Terms include "gnoc", which stands for "get naked on camera"; "dirl", an acronym often used in online bullying that means "die in real life"; and even the name of well-known product Bio-Oil, which is often used by people who self-harm to reduce the appearance of scars.

Jonathan Valentine, who developed the program, said it was increasingly difficult for staff to keep up with slang used by young people online. "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 said.

"We usually leave it to schools to create their own list 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. And we've been told that it has already alerted school staff to a potential suicide."

The software is being used in nearly 1,400 secondary schools in the UK, and an earlier version of it has been deployed in schools in the US, where it is being used to tackle gang- related activities.

The Anti-Bullying Alliance urged schools not to use the software as a surveillance tool, adding that the dictionary could give teachers a greater understanding of youth culture.

"When it comes to cyberbullying, it is really important teachers are given as many tools as possible, and what the dictionary has succeeded in doing is often showing the disconnect between teachers and their students," said Luke Roberts, national coordinator of the Anti-Bullying Alliance.

"What it also showed were areas where teachers will need to try to keep up to date with the changes in language. Certain words are the same all over [the UK], but what was revealing were the different terms used in racist language, particularly when it came to Islamophobia."

Mr Roberts said that children of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds were being subjected to taunts of "terrorist".

Students and teachers at Laurence Jackson School in Cleveland, England, helped Impero to develop the dictionary, and the school said that it had been very effective in preventing abusive behaviour.

"It's a very comprehensive list of words," said Mary King, a member of the school's senior leadership team. "We were able to contribute our own words to take into account regional variations, because a swear word in the North East [of England] may be different elsewhere."

Ms King said that students often made comments online that they would never make face to face, and added that her school's dictionaries would need to be reviewed regularly to ensure they were up to date.

"At the moment the dictionaries are very current, but we will have to review and update them at least annually to keep up with the different phrases our students use," she said.

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