New font blurs curse words and swaps in kinder language to stop cyberbullying

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Cyberbullying is a growing problem in today’s increasingly plugged-in world, with one in four children reporting they’ve been harassed or bullied online.

A Finnish tech company is hoping to create a kinder virtual space with a font that covers profanity in text-editing software, such as Word or Outlook, with a blur.

Using machine learning, The Polite Type is capable of spotting insulting phrases and replaces derogatory terms with inclusive language.   

For example, ‘You are stupid’ becomes ‘You are silly,’ while ‘I hate you’ is changed to ‘I disagree with you.’ 

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Helsinki-based TietoEVRY has developed The Polite Type , an open-source font that blurs curse words and rewrites hurtful language. More than 35 percent of cyberbullying victims develop some kind of social anxiety, and nearly one in five report difficulty sleeping because of it.

Helsinki-based TietoEVRY has developed The Polite Type , an open-source font that blurs curse words and rewrites hurtful language. More than 35 percent of cyberbullying victims develop some kind of social anxiety, and nearly one in five report difficulty sleeping because of it

Derogatory terms referring to race, gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity are replaced with straightforward words describing that group.

The company says this marks the first font to incorporate blurring as a tool to censor hate speech. 

‘We want bullies to rethink the words they use and the actual meaning behind them,’ said TietoEVRY spokesperson Kia Haring.

‘Bullying is especially damaging when it comes to children and young people. Young people don’t have the same psychological tools as adults do to deal with hateful comments, and it can leave long-lasting emotional scars,’ she added.  

If a user attempts to type an English-language swear word that is in the font's database, it will be replaced with a digital blur. Mean-spirited phrases, meanwhile, are automatically replaced with softer sentiments - 'You are stupid' becomes 'You are silly,' for example. Derogatory terms referring to race, gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity are replaced with straightforward words describing that group

If a user attempts to type an English-language swear word that is in the font’s database, it will be replaced with a digital blur. Mean-spirited phrases, meanwhile, are automatically replaced with softer sentiments – ‘You are stupid’ becomes ‘You are silly,’ for example. Derogatory terms referring to race, gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity are replaced with straightforward words describing that group

‘I hope that our cause acts as a wake-up call for all audiences to consider how bullying could be tackled.’ 

TietoEVRY says it supports free speech and the right to disagree, but insists hate speech ‘is not a valid way to voice disagreement.’ 

Haring says being respectful should be the ‘default option’ online and off.

Free to download, The Polite Type is compatible with most word processing programs. It also works when you’re offline.

The initial vocabulary of some 1,800 words was developed in collaboration with Finnish teens, along with the Children and Youth Foundation and several nonprofits that work to promote diversity, inclusion and anti-racism.

Its open-source format means new words and phrases will be added as more people and institutions download and use the font.

Free to download, The Polite Type is compatible with most word processing programs. It also works when you're offline. The initial vocabulary was developed in collaboration with Finnish teens, along with nonprofits that work to promote diversity and inclusion

Free to download, The Polite Type is compatible with most word processing programs. It also works when you’re offline. The initial vocabulary was developed in collaboration with Finnish teens, along with nonprofits that work to promote diversity and inclusion

More than a third of bullying takes place online, according to UNESCO. Children are logging on at younger and younger ages, especially as the pandemic has made remote learning more common and in-person socializing rarer.

Over 35 percent of cyberbullying victims develop some kind of social anxiety, according to TietoEVRY, and nearly one in five report difficulty sleeping because of it. 

For now, The Polite Type only works on text-editing programs, not social media platforms like Twitter or Instagram. 

TietoEVRY sees it as an educational tool – for kids, parents, and educators – rather than a quick fix.

‘We alone can’t solve this issue,’ said Haring, ‘but we can raise awareness – and maybe we can inspire new and improved ideas.’

CHILDHOOD BULLYING IS LINKED TO MANY LONG-TERM NEGATIVE MENTAL HEALTH OUTCOMES

Bullying can affect everyone; those who are bullied, those who bully, and those who witness bullying. 

Bullying is linked to many negative outcomes including impacts on mental health, substance use, and suicide. 

It is important to talk to children to determine whether bullying, or something else, is a concern.

Children who are bullied

Children who are bullied can experience negative physical, school, and mental health issues. 

Children who are bullied are more likely to experience:

Depression and anxiety, increased feelings of sadness and loneliness, changes in sleep and eating patterns, and loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy. 

These issues may persist into adulthood.

Health complaints 

Decreased academic achievement—GPA and standardised test scores—and school participation. 

They are more likely to miss, skip, or drop out of school.

A very small number of bullied children might retaliate through extremely violent measures. 

In 12 of 15 school shooting cases in the 1990s, the shooters had a history of being bullied.

Children who bully others

Childrens who bully others can also engage in violent and other risky behaviors into adulthood. 

Children who bully are more likely to:

  • Abuse alcohol and other drugs in adolescence and as adults
  • Get into fights, vandalise property, and drop out of school
  • Engage in early sexual activity
  • Have criminal convictions and traffic citations as adults
  • Be abusive toward their romantic partners, spouses, or children as adults

Bystanders

Children who witness bullying are more likely to:

  • Have increased use of tobacco, alcohol, or other drugs
  • Have increased mental health problems, including depression and anxiety
  • Miss or skip school

The Relationship between Bullying and Suicide

Media reports often link bullying with suicide. However, most youth who are bullied do not have thoughts of suicide or engage in suicidal behaviors.

Although children who are bullied are at risk of suicide, bullying alone is not the cause. 

Many issues contribute to suicide risk, including depression, problems at home, and trauma history. 

Additionally, specific groups have an increased risk of suicide, including black and minority ethnic, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth.

This risk can be increased further when these children are not supported by parents, peers, and schools.  

Bullying can make an unsupportive situation worse.

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