Watson standing strong to beat cyber bullying

By | 9 minute read | March 21, 2017

leadspace image for IBM InterConnect 2017

Five-time Emmy winner and Grammy nominee, Wayne Brady has a strong message for online bullies, “I don’t want you as my fan.” And to millions of fellow cyberbullying victims – many of them adolescents – he says, “be yourself, no matter what anyone else says, be strong.”

Brady gets bullied too

When I was first asked to come at talk to IBM about cyber bullying I asked myself why me? Why not an expert or a well-known author? But actually, I was able to answer myself because like many of us, I know about cyber bulling (also known as trolling). It’s so pervasive and consistent in our society. I’m a comedian and get asked “can’t you take a joke” or “can’t you take a ribbing online.” We hear about cyber bullying all the time so we are used to it.

I’m an actor, singer, dancer, writer. I’ve done these things since I was 16, I’m now 45. I’ve had a very remarkable journey, in a field which is very uncertain, I have stayed employed since the age of 16. Through hard work and a lot of luck and fate, my career path found me.

Born in Georgia, and raised in Florida, where my family were the odd ones out, speaking with very deep Virgin Island accents. When I was growing up, there was a huge influx of Jamaican immigrants, they were very territorial. The locals lumped my family in with “those foreigners.” I had a very thick Jamaican accent and I would go to school, and get irate at being called something I wasn’t. Even if I was Jamaican, which I wasn’t, why was that a bad thing? I had to stick up for my family and myself. I learnt from a very early age that if you’re different, it’s not good. I was in the gifted program, went from kindergarten to 2nd grade and I couldn’t get a break. My mum didn’t let me watch TV, but I watched a lot of PBS, which was amazing in the 70s and 80s. Mr Rogers, Sesame Street, Morgan Freeman, I ate that up. Besides the educational programming, I watched the black and white movies. All these things a young black kid in the hood shouldn’t be watching, according to some. I dressed funny, spoke funny, knew things I shouldn’t know and liked to talk about things I shouldn’t.

I wished at that time I learned that those differences are ok. I now credit those differences for the person I am, an improvisor, someone who can tour the world. I thank my mum every day for the choices she made because it made me a person who wants to stand up for themselves. Around age 16 I had been bullied for all the above, in addition to new things. Bullying is nothing new but you can change your narrative. I am not a victim, and anyone who is bullied shouldn’t dwell, you should take the things that were said, and make yourself stronger. It’s a cliché but what doesn’t kill you really does makes you stronger.

Bullying has become the norm

Somewhere along the line it became ok to bully and we very often make excuses: “boys being boys, they’re just words, let them do what they want to do.” When you can’t react to words, people will come over there and smack you. I remember one point being dragged into the bathroom by a kid called Virdual, I remember I was 12, and he was getting ready to fight me. He called me a faggot and I only knew what it meant after I asked my teacher and I decided that whatever that thing he called me meant, that’s got to be bad.

The fastest way to get under someone’s skin is to emasculate them. As a teenager, I learnt that if someone called me that word it must be bad so I won’t talk to gay people. I didn’t like myself, I was told I was too black and at one point, told I was too white. Everything I learned about myself up to a certain point was negative. But when I started acting, these people showed me the things I should love about myself and that’s when I started to learn amazing lessons.

Mental health

I suffered from social anxiety and that gave me a stutter because I didn’t want to speak. I had my voice taken away from me for a couple of years, I was scared that whatever I said to people, they would laugh at me. And to this day, I still carry the residue of that. When I walk into a room, the persona you see is different to the people that know me. This Wayne is very quiet, I’m happy being in a room on my own, I don’t like to talk to people. I still carry this fear of, what I say is going to be the wring thing and people are going to laugh at me – which is ironic, but I’ll work to make you laugh with me rather than laugh at me.

The internet and rise of cyber bullying

Cyber bullying was the logical extension once we got the internet. Being able to talk to people online and across the world. I’m a huge gamer and I remember when (in 93’ or 94’) I could go online with AOL for the first time. I was so happy that there was this amazing technology, I thought the world has changed and nothing can go wrong.

Now I hate the internet – Twitter, Facebook. I use them, but they have given voice to the people who think it’s all right to bully in person and can now have a 24-hour platform. Where if you’re bored, you can make fun of others. It’s a passport to the virtual land of doing and saying whatever I want as you’re anonymous and you can’t be tracked down. By letting cyber bullying and the anonymity flourish, it starts to circle where the more embolden someone is to attack others and the physical world has been moved to the internet.

Right now is a crazy time in America, people are saying and doing whatever they want in real life because they did it online. They think it’s cool – which it isn’t. We have to ask ourselves how we stop this? I believe we have to band together, push forward certain types of legislation. Reinforce boundaries but don’t go online and target. You don’t have the right to defame someone, post pictures or set up revenge porn, which cripple lives. We must question whether it should become a crime. Maybe it should start with education for those kids who have technology as second nature. Teach them that they can’t go online and say these things. Teach them that there are boundaries in society, where we should all live and work together. Things are crazy enough in the world without cyber bullying and cyber terrorism. We must teach them that this isn’t just a phone, it’s a weapon that could be harmful to someone’s psyche, their job, life and family. Posting certain things at work and being unprofessional and once people are caught they claim it as a joke. Comedy is subjective but when 100 people say that’s not funny, it needs to be accepted.

If you have ever followed me on twitter I made a point of being a Twitter cop, I would go after someone if they said something rude to me but I realized I looked stupid and had to stop, pull back and stop engaging. We need to see trolling and call light to it, secrets flourish in the light. Sometimes these people think it’s just going to you, but now I repost it and now the whole world knows who you are. Mostly, they don’t want the full attention of the world because they know It’s wrong.

In my own option, its education – I have a 14 year old, born with an iPad in her hand. I talk to her about the weapon she has and how people could come after her, and we speak about the girls in her class and how the pettiness in junior high goes online and in some cases, leads to suicide. We need to talk to these kids and get them to realize this isn’t the norm because none of this should be the norm. It’s not just human nature, as soon as you give into that you accept it.

Physical dangers from the virtual world

This is cyber bullying to its extreme but I read about a news writer named Kurt Eichenwald, who was tweeted an image – bare in mind he has epilepsy – by a man later arrested on suspicion of stalking, who sent a strobing GIF, with the tweet “you deserve a seizure for your posts.” Eichenwald did have a seizure. He was spammed with “let’s hope he dies, I know he has epilepsy,” all because these men had different views on politics. This troll tweeted a gentleman with epilepsy and hoped that he would give him a seizure. That’s the day and age we live in – to wish harm on someone and go about it online. It’s remarkably sad.

That’s why I say, if we make a big enough stink. Not just us in the room but IBM as a whole, I got so excited that – as a tech geek – a giant puts muscle behind this then we can actually make a difference. Make it so the next troll thinks twice before they do it. Maybe we can help a kid who is bullied, who was tagged in pictures and bullied online, before he is driven to suicide – maybe we can intervene before that happens.

It means a lot that I could share this as someone who has clinical depression and social anxiety. To be able to be vocal and say “I suffer from depression, I’m bipolar,  or I need help” is incredibly difficult and no one will say that if they first time they open their mouths, they’re jumped on by trolls. So, if we can stop that perhaps we can save lives.

Cognitive Build competition

Ester Dryburgh, an IBM Partner, came onto the stage to discuss how Watson is being implemented to protect those affected by bullying and mental health issues. Ginni Rometty first announced the Cognitive Build competition last January, encouraging all IBMers to submit ideas. 8,000 ideas were submitted all over the world. The top ideas were given four minutes to pitch to Ginni, alongside a few other executives.

The video played showed a chatbot which acts as councilor, a very special team and idea, shone a light on the lack of capacity of severe mental health issues. It brought seven women and eight men together. They used innovative social media techniques, emotion, and passion to really engage people. And every single person who they spoke to had their own heartbreaking story linked with mental health. This chatbot will be used as a place online, where youths feel most comfortable, to ask for help.

Bringing this to reality

We are starting with governments, non-for-profit organizations, and universities to create a counseling app. We are looking at how we can train Watson in the best counseling techniques, to have consistency and the most effective next steps. Data will be collected at every single stage, and Watson will continue to learn the most appropriate statements, approaches and suggestions to offer up. It’s in the very early stages.

Get involved

Watson is also working with Twitter to help identify and prevent cyber-bullying and trolling.

To find out more about what Watson can do, visit our website.