A concerned dad has developed the world’s first bullying alert system for Facebook – which scans text and flags up abusive behaviour.
NHS consultant Paddy Clarke’s software scans walls and inboxes for trigger words and phrases such as ‘gay’ and ‘fat’ and alerts parents when they appear.
The father-of-four, who has three sons and a daughter aged between 10 and 20, came up with the idea after reading a string of cyber bullying horror stories.
Yesterday Paddy, 48, said he hoped his system – called ‘Know Diss’ – will keep children safe from online bullies.
He added: ”Bullying has now gone from the playground into children’s homes. Kids feel safe sending an abusive message in their rooms. It is pretty awful.
”Cyber bullying is very topical at the moment, particularly following some tragic cases where young people have taken their lives because of it.
”It is hard to believe but this software is only one in the world to search through text on social networking sites to protect children.
”Know Diss is a very simple concept. It is also a partnership between parent and child because one cannot sign up without the other.”
Paddy, a consultant in pain relief at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital in Gloucester, joined forces with pal Alan Saul to design and implement Know Diss, which costs £12 for a yearly subscription.
Together they trawled through sites such as Urban Dictionary and watched the television series Skins to build their comprehensive database of insults.
Paddy’s program continuously searches through all text on Facebook accounts signed up to the service, including messages, picture comments and posts.
It uses a database of several thousands of words to identify bullying trigger words in a number of spelling variations.
Parents and their children must both sign up by email for the software to work. The child is then sent a link for them to click in order to download Know Diss.
When a bullying phrase is located, it is copied and immediately emailed to the child’s parent or ‘Facebook guardian’ who can decide whether further action is needed.
An example of a ‘bullying’ phrase which would be picked up by the system is: ”Go slash your wrists, fat boy” or words such as ”gay boy”.
When triggered, Know Diss automatically sends an email to the parent which reads: ”The following text has been picked up on your child’s Facebook account.
”Go and have a look at it.”
Paddy of Winchcombe, Glos., – who used his own savings to fund the project – added: ''We have an absolutely huge database which includes spelling variations to make Know Diss as accurate as possible.
''Children may initially feel it is being invasive but it does not give the parent the power to read everything on their profile, just the words which are picked up by the software.
''It is very simple. The parent can read through the text which the software finds 'bullying' and decide whether it really is, or just a joke.
''They can also keep track of whether messages come in a series. Bullying tends to operate in a pack mentality online, one person posts and is followed by 50 others.''
Research shows up to half of children have experienced cyber bullying in the past 12 months – half of which do not report it to an adult.
Paddy, whose children are 20, 18, 14 and ten, has already showcased Know Diss at local schools.
And exclusive Cheltenham College are already considering using it to tack cyber bullying among pupils.
When a child is registered with Know Diss, a small logo will appear on their Facebook wall warning posters they are signed up to the service.
Paddy added: ''With me being a doctor I am always interested in prevention rather than cure.
''Having the logo on the site may prevent young people from cyber bullying someone if they know the message will be picked up by a parent or teacher.''
Currently Know Diss only works on Facebook, but Paddy hopes to hold talks with Twitter and other social networking sites in the future.
A spokesman for Facebook said there were a ''number'' of different ways users could protect themselves from cyber bullies.
He said: ''One person determined to harass another will unfortunately find ways to do so, both online and offline.
''On Facebook there are a number of measures people can use to stay safe.
''We encourage people to use our reporting tools, accessible across the entire site, use our blocking tools to prevent unwanted contact, and visit our Safety Centre, which contains tips for young people and parents about how to use Facebook as safely as possible.''
Parents and children can register their email addresses at www.knowdiss.co.uk. The programme also works on Facebook used via smartphones.