ReThink is an innovative technology that detects cyber-bullying, or hurtful and bullying words – on text messages, emails, social media communications and any app that uses a keyboard – and gives a chance to the person writing them to rethink his or her actions. The developer is a 15-year-old adolescent who deserves kudos for her mature thinking and innovation.
Trisha Prabhu was just 13 when she heard about an 11-year-old girl who jumped off her town’s water tank and committed suicide because she was repeatedly cyber-bullied. The incident had a deep impact on her.
“I was shocked, heart-broken and angry. How could a girl younger than myself be pushed to take her own life? This was unacceptable! I knew I had to do something to stop this from ever happening again,” says Trisha, now 15, who lives in Naperville in the US.
The incident reminded Trisha about the time she too was cyber bullied. “I had received offensive messages about my wardrobe choices. I am what you’d call thick-skinned, so I just brushed it off and moved on. But after reading this story, I realized that many adolescents get really affected, especially if the cyber-bullying is repeated and targeted,” she says.
This is when Trisha started researching the issue of cyber-bullying and found that more than 50% of adolescents who go online are cyber-bullied. Victims suffer from depression, low self-esteem and anxiety and are often afraid to go back to school; they eventually drop out. Over 38% of the victims suffer from suicidal tendencies.
It was during her research that she read an article, which gave her the idea that can potentially change the lives of hundreds of adolescents who are cyber-bullied.
“The article said an adolescent brain was like a car with no brakes. No pausing! No thinking! Just acting! It’s all too well-known that adolescents make impulsive, rash decisions. I further researched this topic to identify why adolescents make impulsive decisions. There is a part of the brain called the pre-frontal cortex. It is the part that controls decision-making and is not fully developed until the age of 25,” she explains.
The revolutionary idea and how it works
She then thought: What if these kids are given a chance to reconsider before they actually post a message on social media? What if they are given a warning to think about their actions? This mature thinking gave birth to the revolutionary idea of ReThink, a software that filters offensive messages and gives a person a chance to change them before posting.
The software has patented, sophisticated context-sensitive filtering that detects hurtful messages as they are typed and pops-up a non-intrusive alert that gives adolescents a second chance to pause, review and rethink before sending that hurtful message.
The app, called Rethink – Stops Cyberbullying, can be downloaded for free from the Google Play store. Parents can also download the app and install it on their young children’s phones and computers to enable them to rethink the posts they make.
The software works on all apps and platforms — including text messages, social media, emails, etc. — any device that uses a keyboard.
“The ReThink solution not only helps the victim, it also helps the bully change his or her behavior. It helps kids develop key decision making skills on and off the internet. ReThink allows teens to become responsible digital-citizens,” says Trisha.
The astonishing results
Trisha tested the prototype on about 1,500 users, all adolescents, and the results were amazing. Over 93% of the time, adolescents changed their minds and decided not to post offensive or hurtful messages after they received notifications or alert messages from ReThink.
“I think this was a huge success for me. Parents and teachers often find themselves trying to resolve bullying situations AFTER bullying has occurred. But this software will address the issue at source and not after the damage is done,” she says.
What seems like a simple yet powerful solution wasn’t easy to implement since Trisha is still a school student. She had familiarize herself with technology to create this app, and work while managing her hectic school schedule simultaneously. “I loved every bit of it though,” she quickly adds.
The app, which has been downloaded by about 100 people so far, still needs more recognition and Trisha hopes more children and parents will use it on their digital devices.
Her innovation won her a spot as a Google Science Fair 2014 global finalist, and also won several other awards. The award money that she received from these competitions went towards refining her prototype.
In the future, Trisha wants to make ReThink available on iStore as well. Her goal is to roll out ReThink to all adolescents, schools, libraries, and communities for free.
“If I make a positive difference in the lives of many in the next 10 years, I would consider myself to be on the right track. I would love to continue on my path to social entrepreneurship and be a change agent for issues that are affecting our society. I definitely would continue to work on unravelling the secrets of the brain and understanding how they affect behaviour,” she says.
As for other young innovators like her, she has a powerful message for them too: “You don’t have to wear a white lab coat or have Albert Einstein’s hair to be a scientist. Just look around yourself, find a problem that you are passionate about and take on the cause to solve the issues. As Steve Jobs said: simple is much harder than complex, original much harder than derived. In the end, when you get there, you can move mountains.”