Alive and kicking are the days of playground rifts and face to face confrontation. But gone are those when victims had a safe haven to which they could retreat, for the internet has brought bullying into our homes and out of control. Hope is not lost, however. We just need to ReThink.
Created by 15 year old Trisha Prabhu of Naperville, Illinois, ReThink is “a non-intrusive, innovative, patented software product that stops Cyberbullying before the damage is done”. Forcing users to think before they send, it uses “context sensitive filtering technology” to detect certain offensive words. In the event of detection, a ‘pop up’ message is programmed to appear. “Don’t say things you may regret later”, it warns. “Would you like to pause, review, and ReThink before typing anything that may be offensive?”, it asks. Available on text messaging, email, social media and so forth, ReThink causes a potential offender to pause and reconsider the consequences of their words.
Inspired by the passing of a 12 year old girl from Florida, who was driven to suicide by cyberbullies, a heartbroken Trisha resolved to do something; and thus began the development of ReThink. It started with a school project analysing the relationship between age and readiness to send harmful messages. The results showed that teenagers were 50 per cent more willing to post hurtful remarks than adults. This led Trisha to study the adolescent brain and its development over the years.
Speaking to the Daily Mail, Trisha explained that the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for decision making and impulse control, takes almost 25 years to completely develop, which caused her to question, “Could this be why adolescents make rash, impulsive decisions? Could this be why they are more willing to post hurtful messages on the internet?”
According to Trisha, many of those guilty of cyberbullying fail to realise the extent of the pain they cause. If they are given the opportunity, however, to ‘pause, review, and ReThink’ their behaviour, most will change their minds. Her research shows that 93 per cent of teenagers alerted to ReThink their decision refrain from continuing. Of those involved in the study, “the overall willingness of the average adolescent to post an offensive message reduced from 71% to 4%”.
Her approach differs to that of the social media magnates, who attempt to combat the issue of cyberbullying by way of preventative measures – albeit largely unsuccessful ones. In an effort to preclude the continuation of abuse, the platforms allow a victim to block the person/people responsible and/or contact the site directly. But such steps fail to address two things; the unlikelihood of a victim speaking out, and the lasting effect of the hurt already suffered. The psychological effects of bullying accompany victims into their adulthood and stay with them through their lives.
But while ReThink is an improvement on the ‘STOP, BLOCK, TELL mechanism adopted by social media giants, it is not yet perfect. I downloaded the software and found I was able to type offensive comments such as, “Just die already” and “You’re pathetic”, without triggering a ReThink pop up.
But neither creator, nor app, are finished. For Trisha, receiving the ‘International Diana’ award for anti-bullying, the ‘Daily Points of Light’ award from the George W Bush foundation, and the Google Science Fair Global Finalist award, will mean so much more if she can develop ReThink in international languages and put it in the hands of millions of children, worldwide, cost free.
Nevertheless, as it is, the software is unprecedented in anti-bullying strategy. In an age of instant communication, ReThink is a much needed pause for thought. But more than that, it is a manifestation of the age old saying that ‘good people make bad choices’. This software shows that if teenagers pause, if only for a second, they can save two lives.