Bullying is by far one of the fastest growing epidemics in modern youth culture. It has not only become more prevalent in schools, but also taken on a new form and identity completely. It has evolved into an advanced weapon made worse by the constant access to technology and social media.
According the CDC, over 4,000 student suicides each year are attributed to social media or cyberbullying. That number has only gone up with the influx of social media apps that allow students to snap and upload content at an accelerated rate.
While physical bullying seeks to emphasize power, cyberbullying seeks to emphasize humiliation. Putting unwanted words and pictures on the Internet where they are sure to stay is a lasting way to harm someone’s present and future.
Students can easily snap an embarrassing picture on their smartphones and have it Photoshopped and trending on Twitter before first period is over. This makes it nearly impossible to find a fitting solution that will not only tackle the root cause, but also the method for which it is carried out.
However, at this year’s Google Science Fair, one student sought to do just that.
Trisha Prabhu is an 8th grader from Naperville, IL, and a finalist in this year’s Google Science Fair. Like most teens, Prabhu faces the daily struggles of navigating her youth in a world where exposure and candidness are common facets of the modern teen.
These same attributes have been key contributors to fueling the rise in cyberbullying, and she has taken her love of neuroscience to develop a solution for bullying.
Her project, entitled “Rethink,” is an app that allows the user to give a second thought to a potentially harmful post.
It would be compatible with various social media apps, and work as an add-on that automatically sends a notice to the author to rethink his or her post, giving the user a chance to change or delete something that could potentially cause great damage.
Prabhu says her inspiration for the app stemmed from her own psychological research that proved teens “may not understand the potential consequences of their actions because the pre-frontal cortex isn’t developed until age 25.”
The app would give those teens the opportunity to pause, reread the content and make a better decision.
On Google’s Science Fair site she wrote:
If adolescents were provided an alert mechanism that suggested them to re-think their decision if they expressed willingness to post a mean/hurtful message on social media, the number of mean/hurtful messages adolescents would be willing to post would be lesser than adolescents that are not provided with such an alert mechanism.
Her theory proved to be successful.
Prabhu split 1,500 participants into two groups: one with the alert mechanism, the other without it.
After giving the two groups the go-ahead to send a hurtful message, an astounding 93 percent of the group with the alert mechanism retracted their posts, proving that a second chance to rethink their words was enough to stop the action altogether. Prabhu says:
I am looking forward to a future where we have conquered cyberbullying.
While the app won’t necessarily put a stop to all cyberbullying, it certainly is a unique and intelligent solution to at least lessen the rise in carelessly hateful content. It also opens up conversation for how a similar app could be used for all users of social media, not just youth.
Teens are certainly not the only ones guilty of spewing hate onto the web. One look at a YouTube video comment section is enough to lose all hope for peace on earth.
While it is easy to react to trolls with equally hateful or vindictive commentary, one must wonder if the mere act of sending such negative and hateful messages has an equally negative effect on the person sending it.
If we had a second chance to consider our joke about someone’s use of grammar, or retweeting a close-up of a celebrity’s cellulite, would we actually feel it was benefitting us, or much less anyone else seeing it?
Perhaps we all need the chance to pause and “Rethink.”