MCKINNEY, Texas - A McKinney high school student has developed an app aimed at tackling cyberbullying.
The app identifies mean tweets and hides them from users, and it won him an award at a national hacking competition this week.
The app does not delete the mean tweets, but instead identifies them and hides them. For a teenager immersed in the world of social media, Alex Meza sees how it could have a real impact.
"I just think it's really interesting how you can really accomplish anything with code,” he said.
At the beginning of the school year, the McKinney Boyd High School senior told his teacher, Jennifer Bennet, he wanted to make the Internet safer for young people and do that through coding.
“And when he said that to me, I stood up and I hugged him right away,” she said. “I was so proud of him."
Meza is one of 30 gifted and talented students in the independent study Bennett developed at McKinney Boyd. Students pitch a project. He pitched a trip to Hackathon in Atlanta, a 36-hour marathon competition where participants have to create something from scratch by writing code.
Meza and his classmate, Thai Nguyen, traveled down to Atlanta this week and won an award.
In the app, the user clicks through several tweets sent to them and defines the abusive ones. Over time, the algorithm can predict likely abusive tweets and hide them from the user. It can also automatically recognize profanity and certain phrases that might pop up in mean tweets.
"I don't even use twitter because if I go on there, I just leave disappointed just because of all the things people say,” Nguyen said. “It's trying to make that a nice place for everyone, regardless of who mentions you in a tweet."
"I want to have a mark on the world, and I want it to be a very good thing,” Meza said. And I think this is a very good first step for that."
"I say all the time, 'Change the world, smart ones,’” Bennett said. “It's very fulfilling. It's why I do this work."
The app is in its beta version and was just developed this week. They hope to market it to a company or start up or even a social media platform like Twitter.
Meza plans to attend Texas A&M and eventually pursue a career in the tech industry.