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Protecting youths from the ugly side of Twitter

last updated 16 January 2017

SocialShield, a six-month student project, is already winning accolades from a string of competitions under the Code@SG initiative.

20160116 social shield at ICMYF

The winners of the National Infocomm Competition Face-Off (App Development), Team SocialShield, with Mr Gabriel Lim, former CEO of IMDA.

By Seow Tein Hee

While social media has enabled connections and enhanced online interactions between humans, it can also be a space filled with hate speech and hurtful comments. With hopes of making the Internet a safer place for their peers, Dunman High School students Chan Ger Hean, Lee Wei Jie and Yu Shi Jie, all aged 17, began working on a web browser plug-in to help moderate online content.

Named SocialShield, the plug-in has three main functions – protecting users from harmful content on Twitter (e.g. swear words or hateful comments), warning users when they post inappropriate content, and reminding users about the amount of time they spend on Twitter to help prevent addiction.

SocialShield quickly grew beyond the team’s initial expectations and won them a number of accolades last year. They came in first in both the National Infocomm Competition (NIC) Face-Off App Development and the Pre-tertiary category of Splash Awards 2016. They also competed against teams from 16 regional countries in the 2016 Asia Pacific ICT Alliance (APICTA) Awards and walked away with a merit award.

These competitions have given the students opportunities to showcase their coding talents overseas and the accolades serve as recognition of their efforts. They take particular pride in the fact that SocialShield is available today as a Google Chrome Web Store extension, integrating it further with users’ Twitter accounts.

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Team SocialShield also came in first at the Splash Awards 2016. Photo credit: Singapore Computer Society

According to Wei Jie, the most valuable lesson they learned is the need to adapt to rapidly changing social media trends. They constantly performed traditional media monitoring and used keyword filters to moderate content. “We (also) developed more features along the way to address problems, most of which we observed through social media and secondary research,” he said.

Recalling the NIC, Ger Hean added that they would observe what other teams were doing during competitions – for instance, some teams used data analytics to come up with solutions – and later apply what they learned from their observations to improve SocialShield. 

Working on the project has fostered strong team spirit among the trio, as they had to spend many days working together, clarifying their thought processes and articulating their points across to each other to arrive at a consensus. While there were some heated moments as they debated the finer points of underlying mechanisms, the students credit their teacher, Mr Gi Soong Chee, 48, with keeping them on track and serving as a constant source of motivation.

The feeling is mutual. “I find it encouraging to teach at Dunman High School because the students are bright and they initiate many things on their own,” said Mr Gi, who was also recognised as an Outstanding Computing Teacher at the Infocomm Media Youth Festival 2016 held in November.

When asked about their upcoming plans, the team said they intend to continue refining their plug-in. "Unlike many projects that stop development after the end of a competition, SocialShield is constantly being improved and adapted," said Mr Gi.

The students’ continued interest in their coding project post-competition is an encouraging sign for the Infocomm Media Development Authority as it continues to ramp up the Code@SG movement. Aimed at equipping youths in Singapore with essential tech skills, the initiative will introduce infocomm clubs and enrichment programmes aimed at developing students’ interest in coding and computational thinking from an early age. An example is the Code for Fun Enrichment Programme, which teaches students to apply coding knowledge to robotic kits such as Lego’s WeDo. More importantly, such computational skills will enhance Singapore's readiness to face an increasingly digital future.  

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