This Software Stops Cyberbullying in Its TracksA. Stout
The thing about people is, they have a core potential for cruelty and hatred. We can look back at history and see this; people have hardly changed. Unfortunately, our technology has. It makes the ugly side of humanity easier than ever to proliferate. We can hide behind usernames and avatars, making cyberbullying incredibly easy and low-risk. Worst case scenario, people get banned from a website. But that’s not something to cry over when there are millions of other sites to infiltrate and troll.
The damage that results from bullies’ thoughtless words cannot be overstated. Bullying—whether online or in person—leads to low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and even suicide.
One teen named Trisha Prabhu, a tech genius, strove to change that. Having learned of an 11-year-old victim of cyberbullying who took her own life, she invented ReThink, a type of computer software that roots out cyberbullying at its very source: the instigator. This creates a preventative approach to bullying instead of a far-more-common reparative approach.
Here’s how it works: a parent or teacher downloads the technology onto a mobile device or computer. If someone attempts to post a string of words that the software deems offensive, a popup window appears, asking the person if they really want to send that message. The software is targeted at tweens and teens, particularly because younger people are more likely to post impulsively. Prompting them to think messages through would counter that, Prabhu believed.
And indeed, she was right. A study found that a whopping 93 percent of participants who received such a message decided not to submit their hurtful message.
Part of the beauty of this software is that it does not police. People will have no basis to claim that their freedom of speech is being violated (a weapon bullies love to draw when facing the consequences of their words). It simply acts as a technological conscience. It’s that small voice that asks, “Do you really want to do this? Do you realize how your words could affect the recipient?”
I think it’s brilliant, and others do, too; in 2014, Prabhu’s program was given the honor of competing in Google’s Global Science Fair as one of the top 15 finalists. Let’s hope her idea and software spread like wildfire!