Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why was a huge hit. But it’s scary to think that one of the reasons it touched so many young viewers is that they related to Hannah Baker and her friends, and the cycle of bullying that they endured. After watching the show’s gruesome depiction of suicide, it’s only natural that parents would want to find a way to protect their kids. But is that even possible in the age of social media? Bark, a new app, says it can prevent suicide and help parents and officials monitor what’s going on between teens.
So what does Bark do?
It’s pretty simple — the app is free to download, and free to use for the first month. Parents or guardians create an account, and then connect as many social media accounts as they want or need. There are a few apps out there that help parents monitor kids’ social accounts, but Bark is the only one that tries to protect the kids’ privacy and “promote trust,” which is important, especially to get teens to open up about depression or suicidal thoughts.
To facilitate that trust, parents don’t get access to all of the social media activity on the linked accounts. Instead, Bark looks out for certain words that might indicate bullying, even the crazy codes that teens use, like “CD9” or “9” — which stands for “parents are nearby,” “53X” for “sex,” or “KYS,” which means “kill yourself.”
Bark CEO Brian Bason, who used to work for Twitter, says the company has a “youth advisory council” on board to help understand trends.
But can it really work?
Maybe. Bark said in a statement that it has received notes from about two dozen users who were able to flag potentially fatal situations. The users said that they weren’t even aware that anything like sexting, depression, or bullying was going on, but the app gave them a chance to intervene, the way that the fictional Bakers could have if they’d known what Hannah was going through.
In a client testimonial, one parent said:
Algorithms and monitoring software can only go so far, of course, but if parents are tipped off about when to maybe check in with their child, that’s a win.