Pause, review, rethink: teen aims to curb web bullies

What were you doing in the eighth grade? Thirteen-year-old Trisha Prabhu of Naperville, Illinois, has devised a project to help stem cyberbullying, the practice of posting mean or hurtful messages on social media.

I wondered, how can I design a system that would be effective in preventing cyber-bullying, before the message is posted? How can I ensure that this is effective on all social media sites?

According to a 2013 survey cited on the website, 15 percent of students in high school had been bullied electronically in the preceding year.

Prabhu figured that cyberbullying could be reduced if she could just slow down the lightning speed that characterizes interactions on the Web.

She came up with what she calls “Rethink,” a mechanism that asks senders whether they would like to pause, review, and rethink before posting.

After a controlled research trial involving 300 adolescents, Prabhu writes that her results showed a significant decrease in willingness to post mean or hurtful messages.

I have taken the next step to put together a prototype that demonstrates how I envision this “Rethink” system could work with various social media sites/apps to prevent cyber-bullying at the “source” (before it happens).

My idea is to create a scalable product that works with existing social media sites/apps and easily [adapts] to any new social media sites/apps that may come up in future.

My design includes a sophisticated context-sensitive filtering system that catches truly “mean/hurtful” message[s] and works with social media site on web/mobile platform[s]. I am looking forward to a future where we have conquered cyber-bullying!

Prabhu writes that pausing for reflection may be good practice in life beyond the Web.

This Rethink mechanism may not only result in preventing cyber-bullying, it may also have a long-term, positive effect on adolescents’ decision-making skills, helping them not only on social media, but in the real world as well.

Read Trisha Prabhu’s proposal, research, and conclusions on the Google Science Fair website.

(h/t Will Lager, MPR News digital producer)