Teen tech whiz prompts cyberbullies to rethink their words

Young woman standing and speaking in front of large TV screens (© Michael Desmond/ABC/Getty Images)
Trisha Prabhu pitches her ReThink app idea to investors on a TV show. (© Michael Desmond/ABC/Getty Images)

Seventeen-year-old Trisha Prabhu of Naperville, Illinois, isn’t your typical high school student. She’s been a high-tech innovator since age 13, when she created the ReThink app — a patented technology that aims to reduce cyberbullying by teenagers.

Prabhu designed the app after hearing about a 12-year-old Florida girl who killed herself after being tormented online.

The app includes algorithms that sense when a hurtful message is being composed. It then sends an alert, asking the user to pause and reconsider before posting.

While the app doesn’t aim to inhibit free speech, or prevent people from expressing their views, it can help teens protect their peers — and often, themselves — from impulsive behavior with very real consequences.

App users ultimately decide what (or whether) to post online. But studies indicate that more than 93 percent of the time, the app persuades users to refrain from posting something harmful to others.

Launched in 2015, ReThink has been introduced to students across the United States to combat cyberbullying.

Prabhu credits her academic focus on STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math) with helping her design and build her app.

Using technology to encourage better online habits in teenagers is important, she says, because “the scars of cyberbullying can last a lifetime: depression, low self-esteem, dropping out of school and a higher rate of alcohol and substance abuse.”

Illustration of phone and brain (© Trisha Prabhu)
(© Trisha Prabhu)

An estimated 52 percent of U.S. teens have experienced cyberbullying, but they’re not the only ones who pay a price. The teens who target peers online may find that college acceptances are rescinded and future job prospects dry up.

Increasingly, university admissions officers and employers check applicants’ social media profiles. So, ill-judged comments posted in haste can translate into lost opportunities, embarrassment and lifelong regret.

“Please pause to think about the significance of every word you post online,” Prabhu warns her peers. “It represents you and your digital identity — and it never goes away.”

According to Prabhu, the ReThink approach could eventually go global.

“In early 2018, we will be launching ReThink in Spanish and Hindi,” says Prabhu. She hopes to make it available in other languages, including Mandarin and Russian.

The ReThink app has changed Prabhu’s life. She has formed her own company, given TED talks and pitched her ReThink concept on a TV show, where she was offered financing by investors in exchange for a 20-percent share in her company.

In addition to studying, she promotes science and technology education for girls and teaches girls how to code. “Instructing young women, ages 8–18, to not only code but to help them overcome their fears of technology has been one of the most satisfying experiences of my life,” she says.