What a 13-Year-Old Internet Guru Can Teach Us About Cyberbullying

13-year-old Daniel Singer has a stronger grasp on cyberbullying than most of us do-as well as on what we can do about it.
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Daniel Singer

How did you come up with the idea for YouTell?

Daniel Singer: One day my mom had some trouble with a friend who was always late. She wanted to tell that person why she was upset, but she didn’t know how. Two days later, I thought of how many people have this problem and how it could be fixed with a social network tool.

Just to put things into perspective, you were eight at the time. Did you really think this site would come to life five years later?

DS: I sent my ideas to my dad [a film producer with friends in the tech industry] and we basically went off from there. He’s helped keep my idea in line and taught me you can always make things more perfect.

One of the ideas behind YouTell—asking peers for criticism—seems like a potential flytrap for bullies. What is your site doing to prevent that from happening?

DS: This is one of the big things I thought about. I knew people sometimes have bad intentions or maybe they just don’t know how their honesty could affect another person. One of things we have on the site is a built-in “phrase-sketcher.” It will analyze comments and source-out foul language, so that the user can’t post something mean and administrators are notified immediately.

But not everything hurtful requires bad language. What if kids ask about their appearance but aren’t ready to hear the answer?

DS: If you open yourself to responses that you yourself might take too seriously, you may not be mentally ready. But you will receive good feedback if you are mentally ready. When I’ve used the site, it helped me to hear what some friends had noticed about me.

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Like what?

DS: I asked my friends what people were really thinking about Obama [after the first debate] and I got a lot of responses from friends that changed my outlook on the whole election. But I also asked about my physical appearance.

And what did your friends tell you?

DS: Well, I actually found out I had this sore on my right elbow that I didn’t notice because you can’t really look at that part of your elbow. So that was helpful.

Why do so many kids ask about their appearance on the Internet?

DS: I’m not really sure about social psyche behind knowing how you look. I do think a better question than ‘How do I look?’ is to ask about something you can change like ‘Did I get a good haircut?’

What is the biggest misconception adults have about cyberbullying?

DS: What I think really happens is that people attacked by bullies online tend to get hurt by those same bullies in their physical lives too. They make jokes about that person at school and it just carries over to the Internet. It’s kind of like in the olden days when bullies would show up at other people’s houses to taunt them.

So a lot of times people know those bullies in real life?

DS: Yes, which is why we have verification system on our site, so if someone you don’t like got a hold of your account and wanted to ruin your day, they can’t. They have to know certain personal information that you decide on in order to answer questions, and people can’t see what other people post for answers, which is a lot of times why bullies post things.

They want an audience to perform their bullying?

DS: Yes. So if everyone can’t see what they are saying, they probably won’t bother.

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