HackRU Winners Take a Different Approach to Online Harassment

Hack Harassment
Jul 19, 2016 · 4 min read

This year Hack Harassment sponsored a challenge at the tenth biannual HackRU, hosted at Rutgers University by USACS, the Undergraduate Student Alliance of Computer Scientists! Our prompt asked teams participating to come up with a tech solution that would help put an end to online harassment. Students used their coding and creative expertise to hack harassment with us.

Below, you will hear from one of the winning teams about their project. They took a different, but complementary, approach and help people build up the confidence to stand up to bullies online. See what their solution was below.

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Online harassment is a huge problem. 40% of internet users have been harassed, and that number increases to 70% among young people. 29% of those who experienced harassment said that they feared for their lives! Bullies are becoming more vicious every day with ever more avenues to attack their victims online, often anonymously. Imagine if there were a way that the people most vulnerable to harassment could train themselves to stand up to bullies in an environment that was realistic but safe, much like a martial arts dojo — and imagine if there were a way that we could drive awareness of the issue by allowing people to experience what it’s like to be bullied online?

We’re a team of 4 programmers who took on this challenge. Ellie Seoe Jung and Jaya Kasa are studying computer science, Vishnu Ravi is a physician-in-training with a computer science background, and Raghav Bharadwaj is a computer engineering student. We’ve all experienced the effects of bullying in some form or another. In medical school, Vishnu had the opportunity to work with teens who were victims of bullying that led to worsening mental health issues and suicide attempts. The HackHarassment challenge at HackRU hosted by Christopher Loo and Samantha Hanson drew us in because it gave us an opportunity to work on a project that could have a meaningful impact on a major issue that is close to our hearts. Chris and Samantha also inspired us with their passion for fighting this pervasive problem.

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User talking to Regina over Facebook

Most existing solutions work by blocking or reporting harassing content. We decided to take a different, but complementary, approach and help people build up the confidence to stand up to bullies online. ReginaG, our virtual bully, acts just like the real thing because she is an artificially intelligent bot trained with hundreds of real bully-victim conversations. (Yes, she’s inspired by the character from Mean Girls!) Regina will harass you on Facebook chat or over text and you have to stand up to her, crafting responses that are assertive and don’t give into her taunting and manipulation. The only difference is that Regina isn’t actually a bully — she’s your friend and will give you feedback on your confidence level and suggestions to improve your defense. You can think of her like a martial arts instructor, whom you fight in order to prepare yourself for the real world challenge.

Regina also improves the more you talk to her. We’ve integrated various tools and technologies into Regina, including IBM Watson Cognitive Services, Api.ai Conversational UX, Facebook Messenger Platform and Twilio.

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Regina analyzes your conversation with her to show you how you reacted emotionally.

We believe that projects like ReginaG will allow people, especially teens and young adults, build up the courage, confidence, and skills to stand up to online harassment. Regina drives awareness in an experiential way and can empower people to report and bring online bullies to justice (only 5% of these instances are currently reported). We plan to continue improving ReginaG with feedback from our users. As members of the tech community, we believe that we have a collective responsibility to fight this critical problem in our community and we hope that ReginaG will inspire others to take up the cause.

For more information about ReginaG or to give our beta a try, check out www.reginag.com.

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