News From Terre Haute, Indiana

September 21, 2013

Company offers social-media monitoring for school security

Social Net Watcher uses algorithm to identify potential bullying, violence, suicide

Lisa Trigg
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — A company that offers a new school security product that could detect online bullying has been recognized with an innovation award.

Social Net Watcher, founded by Terre Haute native Bruce Canal, has been awarded the 2013 Indiana Innovation Award by Centric, a non-profit organization promoting the development of new business in Indiana.

“Our company provides security to schools by monitoring social media sites students use every day,” Canal said of the algorithm that checks Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets.

“Our system monitors students statements for phrases in our database and when it matches the data, our system notifies the school administration,” he said. “No human being reads posts, or tweets or comments and everything is based on bullying, suicide and/or violence at schools.”

Canal said that the SoNet program takes student buy-in, along with cooperation from school districts.

“Once the students see the video explaining Social Net Watcher and find out that no human reads their messages they adopt it,” Canal said of the response the program has received in the schools where it is being used. “If they ever post anything of a bullying or threatening nature, our algorithm will never know.”

With the new anti-bullying legislation that went into effect July 1 in Indiana, schools will be required to investigate all reports of bullying and submit a report to the state each year. SoNet creates that report, and also can indicate when a report of bullying was unfounded.

Canal said that SoNet was developed on the fact that there has been a lot of cyberbullying in recent years, and some of that has led to the tragedy of suicide of those being bullied.

“This is all about trying to curb that,” Canal said. And the program also looks for predictors of school violence.

So far, three bullying incidents have been located, he said.

“Nothing serious came out of those, so that’s a good thing,” he said.

School bullying is a serious issue, and many times the young people involved may not realize what they are doing is harming and changing the life of the person being targeted by the bullying, he said.

The company was formed in April 2011, Canal said, and the program has been in development and testing since then. It went into the production phase in January 2013, and it is being used in a dozen schools in five states.

Social Net Watcher was nominated for the innovation award by an Indianapolis law firm, and the company was one of 10 firms recognized from among 90 nominations.

The criteria for selection was to be innovative with a new idea, shed a positive light on Indiana, be the kind of business that could receive national recognition, and be a company that may bring new jobs to Indiana.

“It was very flattering to receive the award,” Canal said. “It just excites us because other professionals have recognized the importance of this software.”

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com.