End Cyberbullying, One Message at a Time

Kindly, an open-source API that uses machine learning to detect cyberbullying intent in text messages, becomes a digital public good.

Amreen Poonawala, Product Manager, and Victor Grau Serrat, Technology Lead
students use laptop computers provided by UNICEF during learning skills activities at the Al-Nasr secondary school in Sana’a Governorate, Yemen
07 February 2022

The Changing Childhood Project, a landmark study by UNICEF and Gallup, surveyed over 21,000 adults and young people across 21 countries, aiming to unpack what it’s like to be a child today. It found that 77% of young people use the internet daily. On average, they tend to rely far more on online sources to stay informed. 

However, the majority of young people themselves see serious risks for children online, such as being bullied (79%). 

Cyberbullying is bullying with the use of digital technologies. It can take place on social media, messaging platforms, gaming platforms, and mobile phones. It is repeated behaviour, aimed at scaring, angering, or shaming those who are targeted. Cyberbullying leaves a digital footprint - a record that can prove useful and provide evidence to help stop the abuse. 

With more and more children and young people worldwide turning to the Internet and digital platforms to access education, socialization, and any other aspects of their lives, it is imperative that cyberbullying is not just ended as it happens. We have the responsibility to ensure that technologies are built to prevent any intent from coming into fruition.

Children learn with tablets and computers in the Public Melen School of Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon.

Our generation is growing up in a place where we're seeing problems that have never existed before, technology solutions are not an option anymore, they're a necessity and we need to take advantage of them.

Gitanjali Rao, UNICEF Youth Advocate

Kindly is a digital solution that aims to end cyberbullying and make children feel safer, by leveraging the latest advances in technology and by empowering children to solve this pressing challenge. 

It uses machine learning (ML) to detect cyberbullying intent in text messages. When the API is integrated with any existing text-based service, users receive real-time feedback on whether the text they have typed is suspected to be toxic - or contains cyberbullying intent.

Kindly was conceptualized by 16-year-old Gitanjali Rao, TIME’s First-Ever Kid of the Year and UNICEF Youth Advocate. Learn more about how Kindly works here.

As an AI-based solution, Kindly is an open-sourced platform that allows anyone to contribute with their own words and phrases that may be considered cyberbullying. This way, we're all part of the change.

Gitanjali Rao, UNICEF Youth Advocate

Open Source

UNICEF has a 75-year history of innovating for children, and believes that new approaches, partnerships and technologies that support the protection and realization of children’s rights are critical to improving their lives. 

As recognised in the UN Secretary-General's Roadmap for Digital Cooperation Report in June 2020, digital public goods - defined as “open source software, open data, open AI models, open standards and open content” - have a critical role in accelerating achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

UNICEF, along with the Governments of Norway and Sierra Leone, and the India-based think tank iSPIRT have jointly established the Digital Public Goods Alliance (DPGA), a multi-stakeholder initiative to accelerate the attainment of the sustainable development goals in low- and middle-income countries by facilitating the discovery, development, use of, and investment in digital public goods (DPGs). The DPGA is an effort to convene a network of partners from different sectors that will contribute to the identification, support, scale-up, and use of software, data, and algorithms that can advance humanity. 

Milica 6 years old, and Petar 4 years old, are photographed in front of a laptop, in the city of Podgorica, Montenegro, as part of the promotion of the “End Violence Online” campaign

Kindly is now recognized as a digital public good

The Digital Public Goods Alliance is excited to welcome Kindly as a digital public good, now searchable on the DPG Registry.

To earn recognition as a digital public good, digital solutions must adhere to the DPG Standard, which requires solutions to be open source, relevant to the achievement of the SDGs, include important measures such as data privacy, and to take steps to do-no-harm. Digital public goods like Kindly help to create a more safe, equitable world. 

As a recognized DPG, Kindly can help the DPGA in safeguarding human rights and children’s safety online. Kindly is supported by UNICEF's strong Child Safeguarding and Data Protection standards that ensure the protection of all children and that individuals' privacy rights are honored and their data appropriately protected. 

The work of the DPGA in raising visibility and awareness of DPGs will propel Kindly toward wider use by schools, partner education technology organizations, and other relevant products. The open source nature of Kindly allows for anyone to contribute, thus empowering children to be part of the solution to a challenge that many of them face directly. The underlying machine-learning model and training data are available to the global community for iterative improvement. Additionally, as Kindly’s multi-lingual capacity is developed, audiences will have more opportunities to contribute to this solution so that it can better meet the needs of different communities across various contexts.

Any of us are vulnerable to cyberbullying, regardless of our age, race, or gender. Now is the time to come together and create technology solutions to solve this issue once and for all.

Gitanjali Rao, UNICEF Youth Advocate

To explore a partnership or simply contribute by testing and contributing to the open data set, visit https://kindly.unicef.io/.