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Tackling online harassment with Zipit: our pioneering social media chatbot

April 2018. We asked the attendees of a Deloitte GovLab training course in Amsterdam to solve a complex problem – helping people feel safe in the modern world.

Seventeen-year-old Anna said she feels safer outside than online. Enter Zipit: our pioneering social media chatbot.

Taking to the streets

Victoria Mulreany from Financial Advisory in the UK, Harm Erbé from Programme Leadership Consulting in the Netherlands, and Julieanne Fleming from Technology Consulting in Ireland teamed up to find out more about the safety issues affecting us today.

They spoke to people they knew before taking to the streets of Rotterdam to ask further questions. Their findings, including Anna’s comment, were shocking and made clear that online sexual harassment can be a very real problem for those leading increasingly connected lives.

Of the young women questioned in Rotterdam, 76 per cent said they’d experienced online sexual harassment, while 70 per cent had recently received unsolicited explicit images.

Even more worryingly, 40 per cent of those interviewed had felt their physical safety to be under threat while online, while six in ten felt there were no consequences for online sexual harassment.

The team’s response was to develop Zipit.

Appropriate responses to online harassment

Its aim is to improve online safety by giving users advice on appropriate responses to online harrassment, from keeping personal profiles secure to escalating issues to the police if the situation requires it.

Victoria said “We have a massive opportunity to educate people. When you go out, people talk about having your keys in your hand, your phone, staying in busy areas… online, Zipit is your safety toolkit. The ultimate goal is to have an impact on the toxic behaviours happening in the online world.”

User testing for the bot is proving extremely positive and the team continues to develop Zipit as an interactive add-on for Facebook Messenger. Victoria and the team have also spoken to children’s and mental health charities to make sure the bot provides the right advice and are working closely with the police to develop it.

Originating from our GovLab initiative, which encourages public sector innovation by bringing a range of experience to solve long-standing problems, Zipit could have multiple benefits for society.

For young people, improving online safety is vital. For law enforcement, effective triage and reporting routes can free up valuable time. And for social media platforms, it promises a better user experience.

“We’ve already made a significant impact in opening up the conversation around online harassment.”

Victoria Mulreany, Financial Advisory Manager, Deloitte UK

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