App under development in Ireland aims to silence cyber bullies

PR expert and defamation lawyer working on digital tool Depublish

Depublish co-founder Breda Keena, who established the company just over a year ago with barrister Paul Tweed.

Depublish co-founder Breda Keena, who established the company just over a year ago with barrister Paul Tweed.

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Getting caught in the crossfire of negative online comment can be distressing at any age, but when directed at children and teenagers the impact can be devastating. Parents and teachers are doing their best to protect youngsters from cyber harm, but it’s an uphill battle. Recognising that bigger guns were needed to fight the creep of online hostility, Breda Keena and Paul Tweed co-founded Depublish, a digitally-based service that aims to tackle malicious online content head on.

“There are laws to protect people’s reputations and privacy, and social media publishers have community standards in place. However, huge damage is still being caused by harmful social media posts,” Keena says. “We saw a need for a much better solution to address the problem, and ours is the first online mass-market service designed to achieve quick take-downs in a cost-effective and accessible way. It’s a high-tech solution for a major social issue brought about by the explosion in online communication.”

Depublish was established just over a year ago and the company is based at the NDRC in Dublin. Keena has a background in PR while Paul Tweed is a high-profile international defamation and media lawyer.

“I spent a lot of my career handling media relations around high-profile legal actions including Paddy McKillen’s battle against the hostile takeover of Claridge’s and Maybourne hotels in London,” Keena says. “I also have years of experience of defamation cases, take-downs and corrections for clients. Paul and I met through work and were both struck by how helpless people feel when something unpleasant or untrue is written about them online and they don’t know how to go about getting it removed. Depublish provides a quick and easy way for them to deal with the problem.”

Triage

The founders have based their process around a legal version of the medical triage principle which prioritises action/treatment based on the severity of the symptoms. Keena is reluctant to say too much about how the platform works as it is still at an early stage of development, but basically users download an app and answer a series of questions and input the requested data. This is then checked against relevant laws and standards and if there’s an issue Depublish can help to have the content removed. The platform can also store evidence to e-discovery standards and have it available if legal action is required later.

The company’s first iteration is aimed at the education sector and at second level students in particular. “I have a teenage daughter and was very aware of just how big a problem cyberbullying is,” Keena says. “We have already run trials with an early version of the product and it is due to go into beta testing with a cluster of schools shortly.”

The app is aimed at teens rather than their parents or teachers because kids very often don’t tell an adult about an online issue until it gets out of hand. By having a user-centred product that’s easy for a young person to access, Keena says they can be pro-active in dealing with a snide comment before it escalates into something bigger.

While the app is the bit that’s out there and visible, it is in fact part of a bigger picture developed in conjunction with schools’ anti-bullying policies and other stakeholders in the field of child protection. It also has an educational component around online behaviour.

Keena estimates development costs to date at about €40,000 with most of that self-financed and spent on outsourced software development. The venture has had some support from Enterprise Ireland and a funding round to build out the platform will be launched towards the end of 2018. Details of how the service will be priced and how much the company is looking to raise have yet to be finalised. The product will have its commercial launch in 2019.

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