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Cyberbullies quail as online reputation software launches

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A new system to improve the behaviour of visitors to internet sites, by granting more draconian exclusion powers to moderators, is launching this week in the UK.

The ReputationShare technology was launched in the US in April of this year by LOOKBOTHWAYS Inc, a US-based company that has already developed a number of systems designed to combat cyberbullying and encourage more courteous online behaviour.

The principle behind ReputationShare is simple: individuals who behave badly on one site are likely to behave badly on other sites too – so anything that can help site administrators spot those individuals before they flame others (or otherwise “act up”) has to be a good thing.

ReputationShare is based on a points system. When individuals join a site, their score is low, and they may gain or lose points according to how they behave: at present, the system recognises some 45 categories of behaviours, ranging from highly positive to highly negative.

Negative behaviours would include flaming, online bullying, and a range of behaviours for which moderators might feel it necessary to issue a warning or suspension. Positive behaviour may be harder to define, but in essence, individuals who contribute positively to a site may be noticed and gain points.

Whilst the system currency is the unique email address, users with positive scores can opt to associate different email addresses, so that they are recognised wherever they are registered.

The judgement call when it comes to specific behaviours is entirely in the hands of system moderators – unlike the reputation systems run by sites such as eBay and Amazon, where reputation is based on the views of other users.

Scores ought to be dished out in line with site Terms and Conditions. According to Linda Criddle, President and Co-Founder of LOOKBOTHWAYS, they do not allow companies to run this system unless it is clearly flagged to individuals that they are being monitored and scored in this way.

She added: "We also require companies to have an appeals procedure in place, so that individuals who feel that they have been unfairly picked on can challenge moderator decisions." Users can view their score and see companies that have contributed to it. If they feel a score is unjust, they can go back to the reporting companies and ask for arbitration.

The reason that this system takes reputation monitoring to the next level is the fact that it combines reputation scores across sites. Anyone registering with a site will be required to provide an email address. The ReputationShare software then applies a "one-way crypted hash algorithm", which converts the email address to anonymised format, and then stores it on the LOOKBOTHWAYS server.

Thereafter, anyone registering on a new site and using that email address will bring their reputation score with them, allowing site owners to spot potential troublemakers in advance.

Of course, it is possible that the real trolls will just keep changing email address. This will help them a little – but new email addresses will start off with a low score and, if this system takes off, then it is likely that the downweighting applied to new addresses will become even more negative.

In the same way, bad behaviour does not stick forever, with negative scores gradually reducing over time.

According to Linda Criddle, there are a multitude of ways in which this approach can work. She said: “Parents can get involved, and set filters so that their children can only interact with people who have never been flagged for bullying. Dating sites might bias partner selection against cyber-stalkers.”

There is no software licence involved: organisations are charged according to how often they query a service, and may incur additional costs if they integrate it wholly within in-house systems. However, for a site with a million registered users, using a typical use case scenario, the monthly cost of using ReputationShare is anticipated to be below US$5,000.

It is being brought to the UK by e-Moderation, who have moderators ready to use the system and operations people capable of integrating it to existing UGC systems. e-Moderation is offering ReputationShare as part of its offering, to all its clients, going forward.

According to LOOKBOTHWAYS, the system has no Data Protection implications. We spoke to the Office of the Information Commissioner, who agreed that so long as personal information was not passing "hand to hand", this was the correct interpretation of the law - although if matters changed, they would look into it. ®

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