By Briana Vannozzi
Few can forget the haunting video of 15-year-old Amanda Todd — the flashcards sharing her last words of pain just a month before she took her own life. It sparked a global conversation about cyber bullying, and it sparked Jersey resident and father of three Todd Schobel to do something about it.
“That was it. When I saw that, that was it. I started to investigate what was out there, what resources for parents, for kids, what have you, and I didn’t see what made sense to me,” he said.
What made sense to him was an app — geared toward the digital bubble kids live in — and the hope of empowering them with the ability to send anonymous reports.
“So that’s why we have capture a screen shot, two buttons send it off. Don’t start asking the children because there’s some stuff out there where they ask where did it happen, was it on the bus and all these questions,” Schobel said.
“The difference between bullying today and bullying, you know, 50 years ago, is you used to get bullied on the playground by two or three people and you can run home and be safe. Today you can’t run home. You can have thousands of people attacking you 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” said STOPit COO and CIO Jonathan Pearl.
Pearl explained how the app works: “So a student opens the app and they you want to submit an incident, they click on report. Once they click on report, they can go up and select a photo or video from their camera roll, they can chose who to send it to.”
Right now the program is in over 100 schools in 13 states and five countries. Businesses are using it too. There’s a crisis hotline and an anonymous messenger system so school administrators can get more info on a report. The founders say they have a district specific reporting library to automatically send off state reports for them.
“When we go into a school, regardless of how many kids use the app, regardless of how many kids download the app, the environment in the school gets better. There is a deterrent that’s there. The kids don’t know who has it, they don’t know who’s gonna use it. It’s anonymous. People are on better behavior,” said Pearl.
The founders say they’re taking advantage of the whole “see something, say something” mantra because it takes your brain about 10 seconds before you start to second guess wanting to react. That’s why they made the whole reporting process on this app so fast.
“Once children get out of that 10 second emotional feeling of doing something right and they think of fear of retribution, being called a snitch. That is powerful stuff,” Schobel said.
STOPit is partnering with the Summit Police Department. An officer tours the country giving powerful cyber safety rallies, teaching kids and adults the safe ways to use social media.
“On average, there’s a couple dozen kids that’ll actually wait, come up and share stories of being suicidal, being in crisis or having friends that they wanna help but they don’t know how to do it,” said Sergeant Tom Rich.
“Parents are picking up and moving to other schools left and right just to try to get away. The problem is you can’t get away from social media,” Schobel said.
So Schobel says if you can’t escape it, change it.