Software makes cyberbullies think twice
Software makes cyberbullies think twice Trisha Prabhu speaks on a Cyberbulling-Impact and Response panel during The Military Child Education Coalition, 17th National Training Seminar. (DoD News/Nate Burgos/Flickr)
Software makes cyberbullies think twice
Lexile: 700L

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It was 2013.  Trisha Prabhu was a 13 year old from suburban Chicago. She came home from school. She read a news story. It was about an 11-year-old girl who had committed suicide. In the months before her death, the girl had been repeatedly cyberbullied.

"I was shocked, heart-broken and angry," says Prabhu. "I knew I had to do something to stop this from ever happening again."

So Prabhu came up with a cyber-solution for cyberbullying. She invented a software called ReThink. It scans social media messages for offensive content. It gives the writer a chance to reconsider whether he or she really wants to post. The program can be installed by parents on home computers. I can be installed by teachers on school computers. It uses context-sensitive word screening to flag messages for content. 

For Prabhu, ReThink is personal. She too had been cyberbullied in her younger years. She received nasty messages about her clothes.

"I'm what you'd call thick-skinned. So I just brushed it off and moved on," Prabhu says. "But after reading about this story, I realized that many adolescents were really affected by these offensive messages. Especially if the cyberbullying was repeated and targeted."

Cyberbullying is indeed a serious and growing problem. Research shows 43 percent of kids have experienced cyberbullying. Some 70 percent of students report seeing "frequent" online bullying. Bullying victims are up to nine times more likely to consider suicide.

ReThink works on the principle that the adolescent brain is like a "car with no brakes," Prabhu says. "It's all too well-known that adolescents make impulsive, rash decisions."

There is well-established research on the prefrontal cortex. It is a region of the brain important for self-control and decision-making. Research shows it doesn't fully develop until a person is about 25 years old.  This is likely a major factor behind teenagers' sometimes irresponsible and risky decisions. These include texting and driving or fighting. It can also include simply neglecting homework in favor of hanging out with friends.

Prabhu has received numerous accolades for her work. She was a global finalist in the Google Science Fair. She was selected to exhibit at the White House Science Fair. She received a Global Anti-Bullying Hero award from Auburn University. There were also other honors.

Prabhu has long been fascinated by computer science. She first began learning to code at age eleven. It was through a local technology education program for kids. She has also created a free ReThink app for smartphones. She's rolled out a ReThink "ambassador" program for schools. Student representatives spread anti-cyberbullying messages to their classmates. Students are invited to take an anti-cyberbullying pledge.

Prabhu has received multiple messages from people who know firsthand the trauma cyberbullying can cause. They come from parents whose children have committed suicide after repeated cyberbullying. They come from police officers who deal with cyberbullying on a criminal level. They come from school counselors and administrators. They struggle to help cyberbullied students. And then there are the victims themselves. One particularly memorable note Prabhu received was not from a teenager. It was from an adult. She was a retired teacher who had been bullied for years by an adult adopted daughter. "Trisha," the woman wrote, "ReThink would not only help adolescents, it would help adults too."

I downloaded ReThink to my iPhone to test it.  I started to post "I hate you" to a Facebook wall. I had no intentions of actually posting it. A ReThink bubble popped up. "Let's change these words to make it positive," it suggested. "You're a fat," I began. I was interrupted by "Don't say things that you may regret later!" ReThink has a high sensitivity for bad words. I started a post with a four-letter word. The ReThink bubble showed up. It asked "Are these words really you?"

The program did not catch everything. I was able to type "You're ugly and stupid" without getting a ReThink message. And somehow "nobody likes you, you idiot" also snuck through. 

ReThink is clearly not yet a perfect tool for capturing all cyber cruelty. But it does offer teens a second chance and they tend to take it. Research was conducted with ReThink. It showed teens change their mind about posting the hurtful messages 93 percent of the time.

Prabhu ultimately hopes to have ReThink installed for free on school computers and libraries. She wants to see this across the country. And even around the world. She has plans to develop the program in multiple languages.

"I look forward to a day when we have conquered cyberbullying," she says. 

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How do you think schools could best use the ReThink software?
Write your answers in the comments section below

  • Daymond J-den
    10/16/2019 - 02:00 p.m.

    School could use Re Think software to change these words to make it positive.

  • AshtonD-den
    10/16/2019 - 02:57 p.m.

    I think schools could best use the rethink software by putting the rethink software on computers. And making the computer ban certain things to search up for students.

  • NekyiaD-den
    10/22/2019 - 08:34 p.m.

    I think schools could best use the ReThink software because it gives the person another chance to think about what they're going to post since a lot of kids are dying from cyberbullying and when the bully finds out the person is dead the feel all hurt because now they are thinking about what they have done so i think the software would be good so they people can think about the future if they post that comment because what they post will always be there no matter what .

  • RayZhang
    11/11/2019 - 11:09 p.m.

    I agree on the rethink app that can help other people think twice before they any bad word on the social media.

  • 26ehprin
    11/12/2019 - 11:07 a.m.

    I like the idea of ReThink. Students can have the chance to think twice about what they say. Because ReThink doesn't catch anything, though, a few adults monitoring this website might benefit this website as an extra protection.

  • 26kadubo
    11/12/2019 - 11:08 a.m.

    I think Prabhu is smart to make ReThink. The app is good for cyberbullies and could help them stop cyberbullying people. But some people might not get the app because they want to take out their anger on other people.

  • 26sgbock
    11/14/2019 - 10:38 a.m.

    Schools could best use the ReThink software by monitoring the students messages.So then they know if someone is cyber bullying of typing inappropriate messages. It could help with the amount of people being sad or the amount of cyber-bully's at our school.

  • 26mawell
    11/14/2019 - 10:42 a.m.

    I think schools could be able to use it to find out if someone's being bullied or if they're bullying someone else. It would be amazing if we could have software like this in your school.

  • 26gmnels
    11/19/2019 - 10:27 a.m.

    This is a great idea. I think that Rethink will help other people on what to say.

  • 26njsara
    11/19/2019 - 10:44 a.m.

    By putting it in computer labs and or chrome books stuff like that to stop cyber bulling at school to help students feel like they are safe

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