What did I find? This younger age group, ages 12 to 18, was 40% more willing to post an offensive message than an older age group. OK. The number didn’t surprise me. But why? Why was that younger age group so much more willing to post an offensive message? I started to do a lot of research, and, one day, I came across an article, and it had one sentence that would forever change my view on this problem. They said, “The adolescent brain is likened to a car with no breaks.” High speed. No pausing. No thinking. No considering. We just act.
So why is it like that? Our brains are kind of weird. They develop from the back to the front, which means that our front part of the brain is not fully developed until age 25. Why is that a problem? Well, prefrontal cortex controls decision-making skills, rash, impulsive decisions, spur-of-the-moment feelings. So, that’s why adolescents don’t think before they act. They just go ahead and do something, whether it’s downing fifteen Red Bulls on a dare, skipping an English final, doing something crazy. We don’t really think before we do it.
Well, then I was venting about this to a friend. I was like, “Gosh, you know, this is horrible.”
And she said, “You know, Trisha, I really admire your passion, but you’ve been talking about this for the last 15 minutes, as if you had just discovered it. It’s a huge problem, but social media sites are already doing stuff to stop this.”
And I went, “Oh, yeah. You’re right.” But I’d soon find that what social media sites are doing is really nothing. Their mechanism is a “stop, block, tell” method. You stop what you’re doing, through the victim, you block the cyberbully and you immediately go tell a parent or guardian. It sounds pretty reasonable.
But here’s what actually happens: adolescents, we’re kind of afraid to tell people that we’re being cyberbullied. Research shows that nine out of ten times victims don’t tell anyone that they’re being cyberbullied. What’s more, why are we putting the burden on the victim to block the cyberbully? Why aren’t we changing the behavior in the actual cyberbully? And it angered me. There wasn’t a single effective way to stop cyberbullying, and it was a silent pandemic that was affecting so many people around the world.
That’s when I had an idea. I know from my research that adolescents don’t think before they do things, right? So, what if they didn’t think before they type? What if I gave them a chance to think about what they were doing? If an adolescent tried to post an offensive message on social media, if I went, “Whoa! Hold on. You’re about to post an offensive message to someone. That can really hurt them. Are you sure you want to post this message?”, would they still be as willing to do it? I had no idea, but I was ready to find out.
So that year, using my science and technology skills, I created two software systems. And basically, they were able to compare whether an alert that prompted adolescents to think about what they were doing actually decreased their willingness to post offensive messages. So, for four to six weeks, I basically lived at my local library. All the kids were always giving me weird looks, but, you know, in the end, it was totally worth it. I was able to get 1,500 valid trials of data. And what did I find? 93% of the time when adolescents receive an alert that says, “Whoa! You’re about to post an offensive message”, they changed their mind. I was able to decrease the willingness to post offensive messages from 71.4% to 4.6%.
Think about that. My research proved that rethink before you type, rethink before you post, rethink before the damage is done is an effective long-term method to stop cyberbullying, at the source, before the damage is done.
So Rethink has become insanely popular — I’m glad to say. Just a few weeks ago, I was at the Google Science Fair for my research. I’m a global finalist. And I also currently – thank you. And I also currently hold a United States provisional patent for this idea. So now, my main goal is getting this out there as a product, and stopping cyberbullying. I’m currently working tirelessly to create a Chrome extension browser and a mobile add-on for mobile platforms. That way, Rethink can go global and stop cyberbullying before the damage is done.
Steve Jobs once said, “Simple can be harder than complex. Original, much harder than derived. But when you get there, it’s worth it, because you can move mountains.” He is so right. Rethink has proved that, in those few seconds, when you decide whether or not you’re going to hit ‘post’, those few seconds mean so much in the future. So, whether you’re about to post an offensive message about the fat girl that sits ahead of you in your class, or your annoying boss, that can mean the fat girl’s life, or your job.