Digital Citizenship In The Age of COVID-19

Trisha Prabhu
June 8, 2020

Last month, I had the opportunity to partake in a FOSI virtual event: “COVID-19, Civility, and Citizenship,” as the Founder and CEO of ReThink, a social enterprise tackling online hate. Since the onset of COVID-19, I have seen immense and growing interest in having a conversation on what COVID-19 has meant for digital citizenship. To answer that question, I joined Rosalind Wiseman, the founder of Cultures of Dignity, an organization focused on supporting children’s mental health and well being, and it was a fascinating conversation. Here is what we learned:

  • COVID-19 has presented a silent crisis: COVID-19 is, first and foremost, a humanitarian crisis — countless lives have been lost, and the virus’s future reach is unknown. Second to this health crisis is the economic uncertainty families now face: in April, the US unemployment rate rose to an astonishing 14.7%. In other words — it’s been a tough time, all around. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has also presented another unique problem: prolonged use of technology — especially by young people — and rising levels of online hate. This crisis — which has received less discussion and attention — warrants serious discussion.
  • Increased screen time is particularly concerning: Pre-COVID-19, young people were already living their lives online, but post-COVID-19, there seems to be no distinction between their lives and the digital world. Whether engaging in e-learning or saying hello to friends, everything is digital. As I discussed in our conversation, not only is increased screen time a concern for young people’s health — too much tech time has been associated with everything from sleep disruption to obesity — it’s building a dangerous habit that may last well after in-person interactions recuperate. Studies have consistently shown that for young people, especially, screen time can be too attractive. If educators and parents are not intentional about supervising screen time, the consequences may be long-lasting.
  • Discrimination against Asian-American communities is a serious problem: Sometimes, the result of these often unsupervised, lengthy periods of time online has been cyberbullying and digital harassment. Indeed, in the past month, instances of xenophobia, hate crimes, and racism — often targeting Asian Americans — have risen, both online and offline. In New York, the New York Commission on Human Rights says claims of Asian-American discrimination and harassment have risen over 1000% relative to the same period in 2019. Now, more than ever, it is so important that we come together — to support, empower, and care for one another. Instead, we’ve seen the opposite. Rosalind and I both condemned this hate, which we saw as unacceptable.
  • We have an opportunity: With all of that said, Rosalind and I both acknowledged — and emphasized — COVID-19 presents a tremendous opportunity, in two key ways.

First, COVID-19 gives parents and educators the opportunity to create a teachable moment around digital citizenship and civility. Many parents — of younger kids, and tech-savvy teens — have not had the “technology talk,” so to speak. Now is a great time to talk to your kids — about screen time, treating others with respect, and the responsibility associated with being a digital citizen. Parents can turn to tools like my anti-cyberbullying app, ReThink, for help. ReThink is an award-winning, innovative, patented app that effectively detects and stops online hate, before the damage is done. By giving adolescents a nudge in real-time (“Are you sure you want to post this?”), ReThink helps transform users into empowered, responsible digital citizens. To learn more about ReThink (available in six languages, now including French, Italian, and Greek):, visit: www.rethinkwords.com.

Second, COVID-19 has exposed a number of important, existing problems especially in the educational world and given us yet another reason to act. During COVID-19, disparities in access to critical learning resources - especially digital resources, like devices, Wi-Fi, etc. - have presented serious e-learning issues across the U.S. and globally. As Rosalind and I noted, these issues have always been there; COVID-19 has simply made it clear how important it is that we tackle them. We cannot let this moment get away from us — we must take action.

And indeed, one action, one conversation, and one moment can be powerful - and it all starts with you.

Click here to view the full conversation from COVID-19, Civility and Citizenship. This blog commemorates Internet Safety Month, which happens every June.

Written by

Trisha Prabhu

Trisha Prabhu is a 19-year-old innovator, social entrepreneur, global advocate and inventor of ReThink™, a patented technology and an effective way to detect and stop online hate. She is currently pursuing her undergraduate education at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA, USA.

In the fall of 2013, Trisha, then just 13 years old, read the shocking news story of Rebecca Sedwick's suicide. After being cyberbullied for over a year and a half, Rebecca, a 12-year-old girl from Florida, took her own life. As a victim of cyberbullying herself, Trisha was shocked, heartbroken, and outraged. Deeply moved to action by the silent pandemic of cyberbullying and passionate to end online hate, Trisha created the patented technology product ReThink™, that detects and stops online hate at the source, before the bullying occurs, before the damage is done. Her globally-acclaimed research has found that with ReThink, adolescents change their mind 93% of the time and decide not to post an offensive message.

As a CEO and social entrepreneur, Trisha has received world-wide acclaim in the business world. In 2016, President Obama and the U.S. State Department invited Trisha to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, to showcase her work and share her story with other entrepreneurs. Not long after, ReThink was featured on ABC's hit T.V. show, Shark Tank. In 2019, ReThink was the winner of Harvard University's President's Global Innovation Challenge & Harvard College's i3 entrepreneurial Challenge. Trisha is the first ever Harvard College freshman to win the Harvard University's President Innovation Grand Prize.

Trisha has also been honored with awards and recognition for her ingenuity in inventing, building, and launching ReThink. For her research and scientific inquiry, Trisha was named a 2014 Google Science Fair Global Finalist. She was awarded the 2016 MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) INSPIRE Aristotle Award, as well as the 2016 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Illinois High School Innovator Award. She has the esteemed distinction of showcasing and sharing her ReThink technology at the White House Science Fair at the invitation of President Obama.

For her advocacy, public service, and her commitment to leading an anti-cyberbullying movement, Trisha was selected as a 2015 Global Teen Leader by the We Are Family Foundation, conferred the 2016 WebMD Health Hero of the Year Prodigy Award, and received the Anti-Bullying Champion Award by the International Princess Diana Awards, the Global Anti-Bullying Hero Award from Auburn University, and the Upstander Legacy Celebration Award from the Tyler Clementi Foundation. She is also a proud recipient of several other awards, including the Daily Points of Light Honor, awarded by the George H. W. Bush Foundation for extraordinary social volunteering and service.

Trisha has also helped lead a rallying cry against online hate. To date, she has shared her vision and power of "ReThink" at 38 keynotes in 24 cities at platforms and stages including TED, TEDx, Wired, La Ciudad de Las Ideas, SAP, Girls Who Code, the Family Online Safety Institute, universities, schools, and more.

Outside of ReThink, Trisha is involved in a number of initiatives that are close to her heart. In 2017, she was elected Illinois's Youth Governor - the first female YMCA Youth and Government youth governor in 28 years. She's also an ardent supporter of empowering women in the entrepreneurial community. Whether volunteering her time to teach young women how to code at Girls Who Code, or leading SoGal Boston, a chapter of the SoGal movement, which is committed to ending the diversity gap in entrepreneurship, Trisha is working to inspire and support a generation of fierce, fearless leaders tackling the world's most important issues.