Your Online Jiminy Cricket

March 14, 2016

Adults, teens, and everyone in between have bad thoughts. Just consider for a moment all of the ridiculous ideas that have floated through your brain in the last week. Aren’t you glad that some of your half-baked assertions and emotionally-charged feelings stayed locked in the vault of your mind?

Me too.

The process between a thought that pops in your head, or that of your child, and what is eventually said or written is incredibly important. This is where your conscience comes to reconsider, adjust, or delete. The gap between your head and your mouth for verbal statements, or your head and your fingers for written statements, is a crucial filtration system that prevents you from spouting out irrational thoughts and mean-spirited rants.

It’s your Jiminy Cricket; your helpful little friend that guides you to your better angels. Jiminy Cricket, a character who first appeared in Pinocchio, is representative of the universal struggle in deciding the appropriateness of the words we express. Luckily for us and our children, the traditional forms of communication naturally called upon our Jiminy Cricket. Seeing the face of the person we are talking to allows us to empathize with them and read their nonverbal cues. Hearing the voice on the other end of a phone call allows us to react to pauses and inflection.

We need our online Jiminy Cricket when sending messages. Messaging is a relatively new medium that is faceless and fliction-less, which therefore puts more emphasis on the person sending the message to consider their words before hitting send. Instead of mindless with communication, the sender needs to be more deliberate and self-aware. They need to carve out the time to have a conversation with their online Jiminy Cricket.

That’s the genius behind ReThink, a potential solution to dramatically reducing offensive messages that are sent by teens. It was started by the then-13-year-old Trisha Prabhu, a Illinois teen who was searching for a way to have other teens make better decisions online. I was able to see her speak at the Family Online Safety Institute’s national conference this past November. Ms. Prabhu is a model example of an empowered participant online--someone who is being the digital change.

Although ReThink relies on complicated patented software to scan pre-sent messages, the premise is quite simple: if teens are given the chance to reconsider their words, to rethink their content, they are nudged towards their better angels. In research undertaken by ReThink, a staggering 93% of teens changed their mind about sending an offensive message. ReThink’s software is bringing out one’s Jiminy Cricket by forces self-awareness. Instead of messaging being knee-jerk reaction, it becomes more reflective in nature.

As ReThink points out on their website, their approach is a major paradigm shift in how we consider online behavior. It offers a possible way to not just target inappropriate messages after they have been sent, but to actually decrease the amount of inappropriate messages. By nudging an awareness and calling forth one’s online Jiminy Cricket, ReThink is humanizing social media.

Teens (and adults) need their Jiminy Cricket to sift right from wrong, and ReThink helps those adolescents move from wrong to write. As parents, we can move teens towards a greater level of conscious messaging by instilling the need to be more thoughtful instead of reactive. While we can’t always be over their shoulders, their Jiminy Cricket should always be there.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Written by

David Ryan Polgar

David Ryan Polgar is a pioneering tech ethicist, Responsible Tech advocate, and expert on ways to improve social media and our information ecosystem, along with increasing the ethical considerations regarding emerging technologies. He specializes in uniting a diverse range of stakeholders in order to tackle complex tech & society issues, cultivating conducive environments for forward progress.

David is the founder of All Tech Is Human, an organization committed to connecting and expanding the Responsible Tech ecosystem; making it more diverse, multidisciplinary, and aligned with the public interest. As the leader of All Tech Is Human, he has created a unique grassroots-meets-traditional-power-structure model that is uniting thousands of individuals across the globe to co-create a better tech future.

In March 2020, David became a member of TikTok’s Content Advisory Council, providing expertise around the delicate and difficult challenges facing social media platforms to expand expression while limiting harm. He appears in the upcoming documentary, TikTok, Boom. David is an expert advisor for the World Economic Forum's Global Coalition for Digital Safety.

An international speaker with rare insight into building a better tech future, David has been on stage at Harvard Business School, Princeton University, Notre Dame, The School of the New York Times, TechChill (Latvia), The Next Web (Netherlands), FutureNow (Slovakia), Infoshare (Poland), the Future Health Summit (Ireland), NATO, and many more. His commentary has appeared on CBS This Morning, TODAY show, BBC World News, MSNBC, Fast Company, The Guardian, SiriusXM, Associated Press, LA Times, USA Today, and more.

David is a monthly expert contributor to Built In (writing about the Responsible Tech movement), and an advisory board member for the Technology and Adolescent Mental Wellness (TAM) program, and a participant in multiple working groups focused on improving tech and aligning it with our values.The main throughline throughout David’s work is that we need a collaborative, multi-stakeholder, and multidisciplinary approach in order to build a tech future that is aligned with the public interest.