Meet the 15-Year-Old Tech Whiz Whose Software Is Turning the Tide Against Internet Hate

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by Aarian Marshall

Most people in most situations could probably benefit from one tiny prompt: “Are you sure you want to do that?” Fifteen-year-old techie Trisha Prabhu says that question could be the difference between life and death.

Prabhu is the inventor of ReThink, a software program that recognizes when users enter phrases often used to cyberbully into a computer—and displays a pop-up window asking the writer to reconsider. The Chicago high school student’s own studies find that a simple prompt (“Are you sure you want to send that message?”) is enough to discourage its teen users from sending nasty missives a whopping 93 percent of the time.

In 2013, Prabhu, then 14, read a news story about a Florida preteen who had committed suicide after being relentlessly cyberbullied by her peers. The young girl was certainly not alone: The U.S. Department of Education reports that 9 percent of students in grades six through 12 experienced cyberbullying during the 2011 school year. Others predict the numbers are much higher—that closer to half of all young people have experienced bullying online.

And cyberbullying can have horrifying consequences. Numerous studies have linked cyberbullying among adolescents to low self-esteem, anger, substance abuse, and suicide.

After extensive research, Prabhu decided to do something about the online problem. “I’ve been coding from a very young age. I love using my technology skills,” Prabhu told TakePart last week. “So I thought, OK, I know how to code. I know that this is something I’m passionate about. Let me try and fuse them together to see if I can make a difference. That’s really where ReThink was born.”

Since launching ReThink as part of her 2014 Google Science Fair entry, Prabhu has taken her program around the world, speaking most recently at a July event at the White House. Next up: a version of the ReThink for mobile devices, so that teens can carry the software’s gentle reminders around in their pockets.

Very rarely in this connected world do we remember that we need to slow down, pause, and think about what we’re doing,” Prabhu told an audience at a TEDxTeen event in London last year. “We’re posting a message, and that has significance.”

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