Cardinal AI Program Could Limit Cyberbullying, Sextortion
September 21, 2023 by Ann Wishart founder Neal Alexander introduced a program that could protect students from the many pitfalls of social media to the Cardinal Schools Board of Education Sept. 13. founder Neal Alexander introduced a program that could protect students from the many pitfalls of social media to the Cardinal Schools Board of Education Sept. 13.

Calling the program a “social media pivot,” the retired Northeast Ohio businessman said it is a web-based artificial intelligence scanning system in the second stage of development.

Bullying, threatening, sextortion and plain meanness are rampant on social media platforms constantly used by adolescents and young adults, Alexander said.

“We need to help kids learn how to pivot,” he said.

When a student posts a harmful comment or photo on Facebook, the 24/7 AI program will take action and the sender becomes aware the post is inappropriate, Alexander said, adding once the program identifies a problematic post, it takes it down immediately to minimize damage to the child.

Then, it sends an alert to the adults specified on the parent/student permission form — coach, band director or parents.

“It takes a village to help our children navigate all the problems out there today. It’s up to the adults to address the issue,” Alexander said.

The website explains how child and adolescent lives can be affected now and in the future by their postings. Besides anxiety, depression and potential suicide caused by online bullying, items students post can affect their admission to college or even future job prospects, he said.

The AI software can help make kids more aware of the dangers and teach them to pivot away from sending items they misidentify as funny or harmless, Alexander said.

Board member Kristin Klepper said students may feel adults are spying on their social media accounts.

“We’re not spying on them. They put that out there for everyone to see,” he said.

However, the program only alerts on pictures and questionable keywords and phrases that may endanger a student’s mental, emotional or physical welfare, not whole conversations, Alexander said.

“We really want to be sensitive to the student’s privacy. It’s a machine reading the (social media) account, not one of us reading it,” he said.

The AI is programmed not to view entire conversations or texts or emails, only scans students’ social media communications.

Klepper said the kids need to understand what the program is. If they think adults are spying on them, they will refuse to participate.

The CyberSafely program has been proven to work, so Alexander and his organization are entering the beta phase where a control group, such as a band or a sports team, signs up to participate. AI learns as it is exposed to the language used on a social media platform so it can carry out its purpose.

For instance, it can differentiate between phrases such as “I’m going to kill you” and “We’re going to kill at the game tonight,” he said.

CyberSafely wants to build positive relationships with schools and parents.

“We welcome their input. We really believe the feedback we get from schools and parents during beta testing will help us fine tune the software,” Alexander said, adding the system will not scan any account until consent is received.

“We’re hoping the schools will help us test and improve this product,” he said.

Cardinal High School and Middle School Principal Paul Gerycz said most in-school discipline problems stem from social media.

“A high percentage … start somewhere on social media,” he said. “If there is an argument in the cafeteria or a fight in the hallway, the majority of time it started on social media and made its way into our school.”

Superintendent Jack Cunningham said that’s the kind of friction that takes staff away from their work and students away from instruction.

“I’d like to use this system not as a ‘gotcha’ — we’re not trying to ‘get’ kids — we’re trying to save kids,” Gerycz said. “Our kids are bombarded with this stuff.”

Cunningham said school personnel already monitor cyber communication on school devices such as students’ Chrome laptops, but most kids are careful what they post from those devices. It’s their cell phones or personal devices that open the door to cyber bullying and worse.

“There’s people out there who prey on kids. It’s easy for kids to say ‘yes’ or to send something. (CyberSafely) would keep our kids safe,” Cunningham said.

The board asked questions, but did not take action to have the program installed.

Alexander said he became aware of the problem when his son, a high school football coach, said he was spending his evenings checking out the social media of his players to see if they were posting items that were dangerous to themselves or others.

Alexander and Annette Fatica, corporate operations manager, are visiting school administrators and boards to present the program, which they hope to take live in November.

In a phone interview Sept. 16, he said the pilot is done and they have proven it works. Also, there are many grants available for schools to install CyberSafely, he said.

“We can find the funding. There is no end-cost to the school,” he said, adding they have permission to install the program in schools in Texas and Florida.

Resources for the development of the program came from the BOUNCE Innovation Hub in Akron, Alexander said.