As seen on WIRED.com
By: Issie Lapowsky
Amanda Todd was 15 when she committed suicide.
It was October 10, 2012, about a month after she posted a heart-wrenching video on YouTube, in which she used a series of flashcards to explain how she had been bullied by classmates and anonymous strangers, online and off, over the years. The post went viral after her death. It’s been viewed more than 10 million times on YouTube and is often cited in the ongoing conversation about the need to criminalize cyber bullying.
But for Todd Schobel, punishing bullies once tragedy strikes isn’t enough. What we need, he says, are more ways to catch bullies in the act.
Schobel first heard Amanda’s story while listening to the radio in his car. He was inspired to launch Stop!t, an app that lets students anonymously report bullying. Since launching in August, Stop!t has been adopted by 78 schools in 13 states, and today, the company is announcing it has raised $2.6 million to scale not only in school districts, but on college campuses and in the workplace, as well.
“We all know bullying is never going to go away,” Schobel says, “but we think we can give it a good shot of penicillin.”
The fact is, bullying isn’t what it used to be. The age of the internet has spawned a new type of bully, one that can access its victims anytime, anywhere, with the click of a button. It’s an issue not just for the victims, but for the bystanders as well.
As bullying continues to cause tragedy after tragedy, schools in particular are increasingly being held accountable for failing to intervene. With Stop!t, Schobel wants to arm both victims and bystanders with a tool that can track bullying no matter where it occurs.
“It used to be if it happened on school grounds, schools needed to take action, but if it happened off school grounds, they weren’t obligated,” Schobel says. “With cyberbullying there is no school grounds anymore. If it affects the learning environment for the students, the school has to take action.”
The Side Effect
Schools pay a flat rate of $2 to $5 per student per year to use Stop!t. First, a school must sign up and pre-program a list of trusted adults and administrators who should have access to the reports. Students download the app, enter their school’s unique identification code, and when an instance of cyberbullying occurs, they can take a screenshot of the interaction and anonymously send it to the administrative team. It’s that last part that Schobel says is key.
“Cyber abuse often goes unreported, because people don’t tell people,” he says. “They get embarrassed, or there’s fear of retribution or of being called a snitch.”
By reporting anonymously, students can tell administrators who the victims and bullies are without implicating themselves. That has had one important side effect, according to Brian Luciani, principal of David Brearley High School in Kenilworth, New Jersey: Since adopting the app last year, Luciani says, the school has received 75 percent fewer bullying reports.
As Luciani explains it, that’s because the very knowledge that every student has a reporting tool in their pockets is deterring bullies from bullying in the first place. “It would be disingenuous to say it’s all because of the Stop!t app, but I think it was a huge help toward kids thinking twice about what they post and send each other,” Luciani says.
A Bigger Footprint
For Schobel, that’s no surprise. “When you increase the likelihood of getting caught, then it becomes a deterrent,” he says.
Schobel is now focusing on ways to get more institutions to adopt Stop!t. He’s looking into working with insurance companies that protect large school districts, which could vastly expand Stop!t’s footprint in schools.
Meanwhile, he and his 17-person team are working on a version of the app that could be easily adapted for other environments like workplaces, college campuses, and even the military. “Unfortunately,” Schobel says, “the market’s gigantic.”