ReThinking Cyberbullying

Trisha Prabhu
January 8, 2019

In the picture, her eyes were warm and inviting, but the smile that adorned her face was mysteriously sad. Looking at her on my computer screen, I felt my heart drop and my mind go blank.

At 13 years old, I was devastated to relive my worst fears. The words from the article in front of me blurred behind salty, quiet tears. “Rebecca Sedwick.” “12.” “Florida.” “Suicide.” Then, the word that made me wince in recognition: cyberbullying. Even now, I could still feel the panic in my chest, bubbling to the surface. Eyes closed, I saw myself, years before, facing an onslaught of hateful messages online and hoping every night for a different reality.

For over a year and a half, Rebecca Sedwick suffered at the hands of online abuse. The harassment compounded other issues she already faced in her personal life, both at home and otherwise. One morning, on her way to school, Rebecca decided she couldn’t take it anymore. She climbed to the top of her town’s water tower - and jumped off.

Reading Rebecca’s story, I was angry: her death was unacceptable, and I simply could not understand how quickly society had acclimated to the silent pandemic of online hate. In that festering disbelief emerged a hunger to research effective solutions to combat the issue. When it became clear that current solutions were reactive and ineffective, I began designing scientific experiments to combat cyberbullying, contacting school district officials, and running trials on an idea I had to end online hate proactively, before the damage was done.

ReThink was born.

ReThink is an anti-hate app that detects offensive messages and gives users a second chance to reconsider sending or posting the message. By giving teens a second chance to think through the decision to post a message such as “You are so ugly,” I hoped to tap into scientific research that finds that “in-the-moment” decision-making is something many teenagers struggle with.

After months of experimentation and computer programming, the results made it clear that ReThink had the potential to not only restore digital citizenship, but the significance of every word we own online. Over 93% of the time, when teenagers had a second chance to ReThink a decision to post an offensive message, they changed their mind. Overall, the willingness to post an offensive message dropped from 71% to 4%.

Since its conception, the ReThink technology product has grown into a global movement. Effective across all platforms on a mobile device and available in 3 languages, today, ReThink has reached 2.5 million students and 1500 schools internationally. I have been blessed to be invited to speak on stages across the globe to inspire youth to “ReThink” before posting anything hurtful online. Whether it's at the Family Online Safety Institute, a school auditorium, or at the Grand Foyer of the White House, when I speak, I speak for many victims that are suffering silently. My newfound identity as a change agent and a global advocate for these victims and their parents is truly the honor of a lifetime. Today, we’re working to expand ReThink’s reach in international languages for youth around the world. By reaching across global borders, I hope that we can find the shared humanity in every word we type online.

My story, I believe, is proof that innovation is key to fixing our Internet - and that anyone can drive this innovation. As a young woman of color driving a technology solution to address an issue that most individuals agree technology created, it was easy for many to dismiss ReThink’s work and our power to make a positive impact online. Ultimately, though, as society works to spread positivity online, it’s my firm belief that we must be open to new ideas, new innovators, and a new perspective. Together, we can conquer cyberbullying.

To learn more about ReThink, visit www.rethinkwords.com or www.trishaprabhu.com.

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.