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What is SimSimi and how has it been used as a 'bullying app' for children?

One parent said she discovered “vile, disgusting comments” about her daughter on the app.

THIS WEEK, ONE of the most popular trending apps in Ireland said that it had gone offline.

Available to download on Google Play and iOS, SimSimi is an automated chat bot. Basically, you send it messages and it sends some back.

The idea is for it to be a robot that you can chat to, that learns to associate words with different responses.

No matter what you asked it from Wednesday onwards, however, you got the same response: “I do not talk in Ireland for a while”.

IMG_3255 (1) Source: TheJournal.ie

SimSimi has become a popular app for primary and secondary schools alike, but parents and teachers have warned that the app can and is being used for bullying.

The way the app replies to the messages you send is dependent on the words the bot has associated with the text of what you just sent.

For example, greeting SimSimi with a “hello” is likely to yield a “hello” back, because it has recognised this as a greeting that would usually yield the same response.

However, you could mention a specific person and, depending what has already been said about that person, the response you get could range from nasty and threatening to sexually explicit.

In practice, a small group could make a range of comments about a person and, without that person able to stop it, their name could be associated with negative and abusive content.

A spokesperson for teachers union, the INTO, told TheJournal.ie that, “despite the SimSimi app having a PEGI rating of 16 in the Google Play and iTunes stores it was being used by some pupils in primary schools.

Where schools were aware of this use by some pupils, they alerted parents of potential dangers. General alerts were also issued by many teachers and schools through social media.

One parent who said her teenage daughter’s name had been associated with vile abuse on the platform, without her daughter even knowing it, told TheJournal.ie that she and other parents had heard about the app and used it to search for their children’s names.

“We did some searches for our kids names and there were some vile, vile comments on the names for each of our respective children,” she said.

I didn’t want to bring up the subject of the app with my daughter, so went into her phone to see if she’d ever downloaded the app on the app store and luckily she hadn’t. It was a really stressful situation.

The mother was told she’d have to wait 15 days for action to be taken when she complained about this to SimSimi. The company did, however offer a number of methods that could be used to remove the comments associated with her daughter’s name.

Although there is a service whereby you can erase some of the associations that the bot has made between questions and answers, this is limited unless you want to pay $1 for each deletion.

She said a friend who works in IT had advocated just deleting the app, but that didn’t remove the comments on the site and still ran the risk that her daughter and others would eventually see the abusive comments associated with them.

I complained but that didn’t delete all of the comments. It didn’t solve the problem. This is a platform for hate, which is anonymous.

The parent said that the comments were so bad that she would prosecute the person who wrote them if it was possible to find out who it was.

“I’ve seen so many violent attacks on social media, and this was just another way for it to happen,” she added.

The Digital Youth Council were among those who had advocated the site being taken down, and expressed their delight when it began offering the same message to all users.

TheJournal.ie was unable to reach the makers of the app for comment.

Read: Controversial ‘bullying’ app SimSimi goes offline in Ireland

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About the author:

Sean Murray

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