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We Harness Artificial Intelligence for the First Time in the Country Against a New Form of Bullying

“If previously bullying often ended when the school doors closed, now it can move into a 24/7 space – this means bullying around the clock, anywhere,” notes psychologist Virginija Rekienė, together with colleagues from Erudito Licėjus, welcoming this new initiative coming to their school – an artificial intelligence (AI) tool to combat bullying specifically in the online space.

In turn, Rūta Petkevičiūtė, the international project coordinator at Erudito Licėjus, emphasizes that the opportunities provided by artificial intelligence today are a breakthrough for the whole world, and the widely spread so-called cyberbullying requires more complex and innovative problem-solving approaches.

Adapting to New Challenges

Erudito Licėjus is the first school in Lithuania to combat student bullying in the online space using artificial intelligence. The “AI@Mediators” project under the Erasmus program (KA220-SCH-45EC77C2), of which this educational institution is a part, will last for three years in total.

“During this time, our international team will work hard to offer not only this artificial intelligence program but also educational modules on the education platform that can serve teachers, students, and parents for prevention, recognition, and resolution of cyberbullying problems.

After this period and after conducting pilot tests in several schools, all our tools will be available to everyone,” explained R. Petkevičiūtė.

According to the coordinator, the main idea is to create a chatbot with artificial intelligence that detects patterns related to virtual harassment.

“What does all this mean? A chatbot is an online tool with which you can converse and have a conversation similar to with a human. Artificial intelligence means that the program has been trained to recognize human speech and identify patterns.

We will ‘feed’ this artificial intelligence by letting it know which patterns are harassment behavior and which are not. Once the program is trained, this chatbot will be able to identify potential cases of cyberbullying or harassment on its own.

In simple terms, it’s like a teenager explaining their daily life to an adult, and the adult knowing that the teenager is experiencing harassment or bullying. The advantage is that teenagers sometimes prefer not to communicate with adults and use the phone as a form of emotional outlet,” explained the representative of Erudito Licėjus.

According to R. Petkevičiūtė, although we know a lot about the psychological consequences of bullying, cyberbullying is a much more complex phenomenon that requires corresponding actions.

“It is necessary for new technologies to adapt to these new challenges. Here we see artificial intelligence as a very useful tool in combating this problem,” R. Petkevičiūtė is convinced.

The specialist added that at the moment, the project is just beginning to see the light of day, so it is quite difficult to assess its effectiveness. However, R. Petkevičiūtė had no doubt that the usefulness of such a tool would be felt by society in the future.

“At the moment, we are creating an education platform, gathering the main needs of schools and students on this issue, and reviewing the ethical principles that should guide the use of artificial intelligence for minors.

We are just starting the project, so it’s difficult to know the accuracy of its effectiveness, but we are committed to making this tool beneficial to society, capable of identifying cases of cyberbullying, especially for young people who do not want to talk to adults about such a problem due to their situation,” she explained.

According to R. Petkevičiūtė, artificial intelligence will help combat children’s bullying in cases where identification will be much more difficult.

“This will be one of many existing tools. It is true that some procedures are outdated, but much of the methodology developed by psychologists and pedagogical specialists remains relevant and necessary. Our program includes specific aspects (virtual communication and recognition of cyberbullying), most of which the general public cannot recognize or see, but the human factor remains essential in combating bullying,” emphasized the representative of Erudito Licėjus.

Cyberbullying Already Dominates

Psychologist V. Rekienė, working at this high school, has noticed that contemporary children are deeply immersed in the digital world. Thus, whereas bullying used to end when the school doors closed, nowadays students can no longer feel safe even in their own homes.

“Now it can move into a 24/7 space – this means bullying around the clock, anywhere. Now you’re not necessarily safe at home because you can be reached and hurt even in the safety of your home environment. Bullying has changed significantly because escaping from it is not so simple anymore.

On the other hand, there’s how I, as a human, behave and react when I see another person and their reaction. Maybe I can stop myself a bit when I see that I’m hurting someone, but when I hide behind a screen, my repertoire can change drastically because of my anonymity, giving me a sense of great, even excessive power,” explained the psychologist.

According to V. Rekienė, using artificial intelligence as a tool to help control cyberbullying is a very wise and meaningful step.

“We can notice many things at school and react immediately, but what happens behind closed school doors becomes less accessible to both parents and the school,” noted the specialist.

It must be admitted that bullying in the online space has already “pushed out” traditional bullying in real life – the psychologist doesn’t hide that she encounters such cases at work more and more often.

“As much as parents contact me when they see and understand why their children’s behavior has changed or why they are sadder, more apathetic, it’s mostly about the fact that my child is facing certain unpleasant reactions from peers in various chats in the cyber space – it can be photos, rude and hurtful words,” listed V. Rekienė.

According to the psychologist working at Erudito Licėjus, quarantine inevitably contributed to such tendencies, but blaming it alone wouldn’t be fair – in her opinion, the younger generation, in general, has shifted a significant part of their lives online.

However, when asked whether employing artificial intelligence in the fight against bullying means that traditional prevention methods no longer work, V. Rekienė considered that there is no straightforward answer here.

“Probably both yes and no. By no means can we say that traditional bullying management methods are ineffective – they are effective when implemented consistently and systematically. Then very good results can be achieved.

On the other hand – I think we, as a society, need to establish certain values ​​in our value structures so that we ourselves must be very intolerant of any disrespectful, rude communication – both among ourselves, when communicating with adults, and when observing children’s interactions.

Sometimes we have too much tolerance for inappropriate and hurtful interpersonal relationships because we also see in the media what influencers say, how they react to certain things,” the specialist reflected.

V. Rekienė stated that artificial intelligence, as a tool for managing bullying, is undoubtedly beneficial, considering that today we need to address problems “beyond the screens.”

“For example, if we have the same typical bullying questionnaire that we give either electronically or in class, it is very inflexible because we ask certain questions and provide certain choices. A bullying tool based on artificial intelligence, which could also be a chatbot, can conduct this survey very differently, can react very authentically to the human response given.

If a person says that they find it difficult because of this and that, and focuses on those things. If a child says they face bullying when they leave school, they are asked a targeted question so that maybe you could give me more examples, the child provides more examples, and specific examples are responded to.

Then more accurate information is collected, it is more comprehensive. On the other hand – the ability to talk even to a robot also works therapeutically. It still fulfills a communication function, so I feel heard. It’s not just a one-way interaction with ticks on a sheet,” explained the psychologist from Erudito Licėjus.