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%.
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.