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14-Year-Old Battles Trolls and Cyberbullies With Brilliantly Simple Google Science Fair Project

Do you want to post that post? Right, but seriously, you're going to post that?

Rethink System

People can easily forget that everyone online is a person, and often that means they don’t think twice before posting something insulting or hurtful about someone. 14-year-old Trisha Prabhu decided to fix that with software that makes people give a second thought to what they’re posting online, and it’s working.

Prabhu is a participant in this year’s Google Science Fair, and her project is the “Rethink” system that, “measured the number of mean/hurtful messages adolescents were willing to post after being alerted to rethink.” For a control, she also created the “Baseline” system that measures the number of hurtful messages kids were willing to send without being alerted by Rethink.

It’s essentially a second chance for teens (Prabhu’s sample subjects were between the ages of 12 and 18) to stop themselves before hitting ‘Send’ on a hurtful message. The software was a test for the participants. For Baseline, the subjects were presented with a sample of a hurtful message and asked if it’s something they would post to social media. The subjects simply answer “Yes” or “No” for Baseline, but after that initial “Yes/No” response, Rethink asks, “This message may be hurtful to others. Would you like to pause, review and rethink before posting?”

Prabhu found that when given that second opportunity to think about the hurtful message 93.43% of the study participants chose not to post. After her research, Prabhu worked up a prototype product for Rethink to give teens the real-world option of stopping themselves from hastily posting hurtful messages. That prototype is outlined in the diagram above from Prabhu’s Google Science Fair project summary.

Given the huge reduction in willingness to post something negative, I wouldn’t be surprised if social media networks don’t get on board with implementing this technology.

(Google Science Fair via The Verge, image via Trisha Prabhu)

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Glen is a comedian, writer, husband, and father. He won his third-grade science fair and is a former preschool science teacher, which is a real job.