ReThink: Conquering Cyberbullying
ReThink is a patented, innovative app that detects offensive messages and gives users a chance to reconsider posting them.
Trisha Prabhu is the 20-year-old Founder & CEO of ReThink™, a patented app tackling cyberbullying. She is also an undergraduate student at Harvard University. As a former victim of cyberbullying, Trisha’s personal experiences being harassed inspired her to stand up to online hate.
For her work with ReThink, Trisha was named a Google Science Fair Global Finalist, and selected to present ReThink at The White House. She is also the humbled recipient of many awards; among them, the WebMD Health Hero Prodigy Award. And in the business world, Trisha has made waves — as a contestant on ABC’s Shark Tank, and as the winner of Harvard University’s President’s Innovation Challenge.
Trisha has delivered 50+ talks in 30 cities about the power of “ReThinking.”
Outside of ReThink, Trisha volunteers her time teaching women to code at Girls Who Code, and leading SoGal Boston, a chapter of the SoGal movement.
ReThink: Conquering Cyberbullying
ReThink is a patented, innovative app that detects offensive messages and gives users a chance to reconsider posting them.
With the rise of technology, cyberbullying has become a global pandemic that affects millions of adolescents. Victims suffer from depression, low self-esteem, and even suicidal tendencies. As a former cyberbullying victim, I knew I wanted to be an Upstander, and decided to act.
The result was ReThink: a patented app that stops cyberbullying, before the damage is done. Operating as a keyboard on mobile devices, ReThink detects offensive messages, and gives users a chance to “ReThink” sending them. Our research finds that over 93% of the time, ReThink works. Today, we’ve reached 5.5 million students globally.
Today’s Internet — which rewards extremism and makes it easy to be reckless — has left many asking: are we losing our humanity? One message at a time, ReThink is regaining that humanity, and in elevating this issue — and our solution — building a new Internet, that empowers and respects its users.
According to Stopbullying.gov, in 2017, over 15% of high school students in the United States alone were electronically bullied. Marginalized groups fared far worse: 55.2% of U.S. LGBTQ+ students experienced cyberbullying. Globally, research finds that over 50% of adolescents have either witnessed or experienced cyberbullying — an astonishing figure, considering that there are 1.29 billion adolescents world-wide.
The need for a solution is only exacerbated by the fact that current solutions are so ineffective. Today, when they are cyberbullied, victims are encouraged to block the cyberbully and tell a parent/guardian (a system I like to call “STOP, BLOCK, and TELL”). Unfortunately, research finds that over 90% of victims choose to suffer in silence, failing to complete that last, important step. Moreover, this reactive solution — and others like it, such as parental control software — only tackle cyberbullying after the damage is done. We can do better.
Finally, with technological reach growing in scope — 95% of US teenagers have access to a cell-phone and 30M US students use school-issued Chromebooks — an anti-hate solution that scales to different environments is desperately needed.
ReThink is a universal solution that stops cyberbullying at the source, before the damage is done.
ReThink is a patented app that detects and stops online hate. When you download the ReThink app, our “ReThinkKeyboard” — a custom-built keyboard with the power to detect offensive messages — replaces your mobile device’s default keyboard. This “ReThinkKeyboard” then works across all apps — from Insta to Twitter — to give you a chance to reconsider sending offensive content. If, for example, a user, tries to post something like, “You are so ugly!”, ReThink detects the message and alerts the user: “Hold on! Are you sure you want to post that?” Our research — validated by Google and MIT — finds that over 93% of the time, users change their mind.
As a keyboard, ReThink works with all channels of text-based communication on mobile devices (texting, emailing, social media platforms, etc.). (“Mobile devices” include tablets, phablets, and wearables.) ReThink also effectively navigates the complexity of language — using machine learning technology, the app accurately determines the context of different messages. For example, ReThink will NOT detect “I hate the weather,” but it will detect “I hate you.” Finally, ReThink is accessible to a global audience — the app is currently available in English, Spanish, Hindi, French, Italian, and Greek.
Cyberbullying disproportionately impacts young people, especially members of GenZ. As a former victim of online harassment, I understand the mental trauma that young victims endure. In building ReThink, I engaged fellow students, and it was their consensus — that the cost of tackling cyberbullying after the damage was done was too high — that paved the way for creation of ReThink. In facilitating a more kind, inclusive Internet, ReThink is building the digital world today’s young people deserve.
With learning transitioning to digital spaces, cyberbullying also presents a serious issue for educators (teachers, administrators, and counselors). As we’ve learned in focus groups, these folks see classroom devices as a liability: a medium through which cyberbullying thrives. ReThink’s anti-hate software scales to the classroom — we’ve brought ReThink to 1500 schools globally — and is helping educators build a positive educational environment.
Finally, for parents, the digital world has never looked so scary — as our advisors (many, parents) have told us, parents desperately want to 1) protect their children online, and 2) equip them with the skills to be responsible digital citizens. As an educational anti-hate solution, ReThink does both — and gives parents much-needed peace of mind.
Elevating issues and their projects by building awareness and driving action to solve the most difficult problems of our world
Cyberbullying is a silent pandemic: one of society’s most pressing problems, but often “swept under the rug,” and hard to observe, because its effects tend to be mental. ReThink is changing that picture, by raising awareness about online hate, and driving tangible change around the character of our Internet. Our community — of many millions — is stopping cyberbullying, one message at a time.
ReThink also relates to the third dimension — by reminding people that they’re better than online hate, we’re promoting more inclusive, tolerant attitudes and behavior. The result is elevated understanding of and between digital citizens.
When I was 13, I read a news story about a Florida girl that had died by suicide after being cyberbullied. As a former victim of cyberbullying, the story struck a chord — I was horrified.
Curious to understand why teens were so willing to post offensive messages online, I started to investigate the potential connections between adolescent brain development and cyberbullying. My research revealed an interesting link: because the prefrontal cortex, which oversees impulse control, isn’t developed until the age of 25, many teens struggle with in-the-moment decision-making (such as: posting an offensive message). That’s when I began to wonder: if I gave teens a chance to think through the decision to post an offensive message, would they still do it?
To test my idea, I built a software system prototype and conducted a rigorous scientific study, with over 300 adolescents participating. After months of experimentation and computer programming, I had the astonishing results: when teens had a chance to rethink an offensive message, over 93% of the time, they changed their mind. Overall, the willingness to post any offensive message dropped from 71% to 4%.
I knew I’d stumbled onto a world-changing idea — and ReThink was born.
Like too many young people, I know what it’s like to be cyberbullied.
I was 12. I’d always been unpopular at school, but after my two friends — my only friends — decided they “were done with me,” I had no one to protect me. I was an easy target — and it was then that the cyberbullying ensued. I received messages labeling me a terrorist, a monkey, and a curry-head. No one was “as f*cking ugly” as I was, and I was “the fattest b*tch around.” I’d been bullied before, but this was different — because the harassment was digital, I didn’t have a “safe haven” — whether at school, or home, I was viciously attacked.
Months after the cyberbullying first started, through tears, I finally told my parents what was happening. The harassment abruptly ended — leaving me to pick up the pieces.
I’m lucky, and I know that. Each year, we lose too many young, promising people to cyberbullying. Knowing what they’ve endured, I’ve made it my mission to ensure that they do not pass in vain, that a day will come that our Internet will support and empower its users, rather than attack or hurt them.
As a member of Generation Z and a former victim of cyberbullying, I not only represent the demographic group most impacted by online hate, I understand the ins and outs of the issue and where the system is failing. In solving this problem, then, I was uniquely positioned to detect and address attempted solutions’ shortcomings, namely: 1) their reactive approach, and 2) often, inability to actually work. For example, having endured the trauma of online hate, I knew — like so many young people — that the cost of tackling cyberbullying after it was done was too high. I also understood perfectly why solutions like STOP, BLOCK, and TELL (previously discussed) didn’t work — I had felt the embarrassment, shame, and difficulty associated with telling my parents about the harassment I was facing. My background and experiences, then, played a critical role in determining the defining aspects of a new kind of anti-hate solution: proactive, effective, and empowering (for victims, and potential cyberbullies).
In addition to my passion and perspective, I had a handy skill in my toolbox — coding. I first became fascinated by coding and the future of the field — artificial intelligence, machine learning, and more — at the age of 10. By 13, I had a solid command of a number of computer programming languages, and was a member of several tech-focused communities. These skills uniquely positioned me to think unconventionally — and turn to technology to solve a problem most folks believe technology created.
After launching ReThink, I decided it was time to meet with potential partners — entities that could help elevate/support our work.
There was only one problem: me. No one wanted to seriously partner with someone so young and inexperienced, and, as was subtly conveyed to me via the faces of the (often) men before me, someone who…didn’t look like a tech entrepreneur. I was also a little unconventional — discussing stigmatized issues, like mental health.
Soon, I was in talks with a company that could be a game-changer for ReThink — it had connections to the communities we most wanted to reach, and could amplify our brand.
This time, I got creative. The meeting started with a video: “Here are all the things I don’t know,” I narrated — and highlighted my lack of professional experience. Then — “Here are all the things you don’t know,” — and a reel highlighting adolescent mental health and cyberbullying statistics played. “Let’s help each other out,” the video ended.
The video was a hit — by reminding companies that the opportunity was mutually beneficial — that these were real issues that they too had to confront — we got the buy-in we needed.
I don’t look like a “normal” tech entrepreneur, something that folks have been quick to remind me of. The first time I pitched ReThink to VCs, I was asked: “So, how did you get into this space?”
The experience made me realize: I wanted to inspire women — just like me — to see themselves in the world of technology, and gain the skills they needed to build their own, world-changing solutions. There was no better place to start, I realized, than in my community. And so, at 15, I formed the first Girls Who Code club in an Illinois public library. Every week, I taught 30 girls, aged 8 – 18, to code.
At my first class, I told the girls: “Coding is an exercise in failure — inevitably, at some point, you’ll run into a roadblock. With that said, I hope you don’t just learn to code — I hope you learn unrelenting bravery in the face of failure. You can’t change the world if you’re comfortable.”
In the 3 years that I taught Girls Who Code classes, 90 women graduated. Each and every one of them — 100% — said that after the class, they felt “fearless.”
6.5 years (since I was 13 years old)
For-profit, including B-Corp or similar models
ReThink is fundamentally re-envisioning how we moderate our Internet. As discussed earlier in this application, unlike conventional, reactive approaches — which are rooted in external moderation (someone says something, and after, someone else flags it/reports it, etc.) — ReThink is focused on self-moderation. Our project is innovative, then, in that it changes the “who,” “what,” and “when,” of performance; successfully tackling cyberbullying isn’t measured by
by the degree to which other users report content after they’ve received it; performance is now measured by the degree to which users self-moderate as they contribute to the Internet. That also means that our WCS (“what constitutes success”) is very different. Rather than count the online hate situations we’ve “remedied”; we count the situations we’ve prevented — in that moment, and through changed behavior, in the years to come.
As Peter Drucker says in “The Discipline of Innovation,” “to be effective, an innovation has to be simple, and it has to be focused.” In his words, the greatest praise an innovation can receive is, “This is obvious!” Nothing better describes ReThink. We narrowed in on a key incongruity with the way the “experts” were tackling cyberbullying: reactively placing the burden on the victim to act (as opposed to the cyberbully, who was at fault), and turned the approach on its head. No, we thought. That’s not right. If we really want to change the character of our Internet, we need to do that with the cyberbully. This simple notion is now revolutionizing our Internet.
ReThink’s theory of change is rooted in our broader mission: to cultivate a new generation of responsible digital citizens. Our day-to-day activities seem relatively simple: 1) providing schools — and their students — with the ReThink technology and educational curriculum, 2) providing parents — and their children — with the ReThink technology, and 3) spreading awareness, especially in youth circles, about cyberbullying, online hate, and the roles and responsibilities that every citizen of the Internet has. The immediate outputs are clear: the technology and education are producing young people who are much more thoughtful in their digital contributions, and much more informed on cyberbullying as a topic. As mentioned earlier in this application, ReThink’s award-winning research has found that over 93% of the time, adolescents who are asked to “ReThink” an offensive message do — and decide not to post the message in question. In addition, our research in schools finds that of the students that engage with our educational curriculum, 80% report feeling “much more informed about the Internet, digital citizenship, and cyberbullying.” We think these immediate outputs are fantastic, but the long-term outcomes they lead to, we know, are much more powerful. Indeed, these outputs lay the foundation for responsible digital citizenship: young people who are habitually more conscious of what they say — both online, and offline — and eager to make our Internet a safe, inclusive space. Our latest research has found that over time, users that engage with the ReThink technology are simply less likely to try to post any offensive messages — they’re making respectful communication a habit. Said a student in one of our WeThinkReThink schools in Orange County, FL: “After I started using ReThink, I started to think about my posts before I began typing.” Young people are also far more ready to go to bat to build a better Internet: “I started thinking a lot more about cyberbullying, and the Internet, and realized that there’s so much wrong with social media today — and we need to fix that,” said Jenn, a 16-year-old from New York State.
ReThink currently serves 5 million students in 1500 schools internationally (in sum, we’ve reached 134 countries). Through our “WeThinkReThink” program for schools, we implement and support a school-specific version of the ReThink app on school devices (Chromebooks, iPads, etc.), and provide educators with a grade-specific, K-12 digital citizenship curriculum. ReThink has also been individually downloaded over 500,000 times; the vast majority of these downloads, we’ve found, are parents downloading the app onto an adolescent’s phone. In either setting, ReThink is available in 6 languages — English, Spanish, Hindi, French, Italian, and Greek.
In one year, we project that ReThink will serve 5.8 million students in 2000 schools internationally. We also anticipate that an additional 150,000 individuals will download the ReThink app, whether for their device, or for a child’s device. We’d hoped that those numbers would be higher, but COVID-19 has been a mixed blessing: there’s been increased conversation around teen technology use, but schools/parents have also had to put a lot on hold, including anti-hate efforts.
In five years, we anticipate that ReThink will serve 10 million students in 4500 schools globally, and that ReThink will have been individually downloaded by an additional 1.5 million users. Those projections are based on: 1) our assumptions regarding international expansion and growth (in 5 years, we’re aiming for ReThink to be available in 25-30 international languages), and 2) growing sophistication of ReThink (we hope to improve the app so it can detect offensive images/videos, in addition to text).
In the next year, our impact goals include reaching another 1 million individuals, which we’re hoping to make happen in two key ways: 1) international expansion, and 2) diversification of users. Currently, our goal is to make ReThink available in a dozen languages (up from our current 6) and in 150 countries (up from our current 134). To make it happen, we’ve secured 3 linguistic experts to aid our technical team, and several partnerships with international schools. We also want to grow use of ReThink in individual homes — our goal is for individual downloads to represent 25% of our total users (up from 10%). Thus, we’re developing a number of new features to make the ReThink experience more comprehensive for parents, including access to analytics/data about child activity with ReThink. We are currently scheduled to begin beta-testing these features in August of 2020, and are aiming for a release in 12/20.
In the next 5 years, we’re aiming for ReThink to have impacted 11.5 million individuals globally; by that time, we hope, ReThink will be available in 25 – 30 international languages, and current investments in RandD focused on detection of explicit/offensive images/videos will have come to fruition. We’re also hoping, in the next 5 years, that ReThink will also be working to detect digital suicidal thoughts — and offer resources to tweens and teens, before it’s too late. We’ve secured 3 technology partners in this mission, and hope to begin beta-testing potential products in 2022.
Three barriers stand in the way of our goals: 1) a lack of funding/resources for growth, 2) differences associated with foreign markets, and 3) technical challenges.
While ReThink is a thriving global movement and financially sustainable, close to everything we “make” is invested in the growth of our organization. I, for example, do not take a salary. To scale to growing demand/interest — releasing ReThink in new international languages, building new features, innovating, amplifying our brand, etc. — we’re going to need additional resources. Without them, we risk not having the means to grow exponentially.
A key source of ReThink’s projected growth is international expansion; however, cultural and market barriers make the work we’re doing complicated in foreign contexts. For one, many developing nations are only now experiencing rapid growth in technology use, meaning that cyberbullying may be more of an emerging — rather than established — problem (and thus, the market may be a little less ripe for change). In addition, many foreign cultures see bullying as a rite of passage, or do not discuss stigmatized topics, like mental health. These are all concerns we’re considering as we work to make ReThink a reality for billions of global citizens.
Finally, as the ReThink technology product evolves — becomes available in new languages, and more sophisticated — technical development will become more challenging, and require more infrastructure (facilities, hardware, etc.) and talent (this connects to Barrier #1). This is a barrier we can overcome, but need to plan for.
To acquire the resources we need to scale ReThink’s work, we’re doing two things: first, we’re pursuing partnerships with high-impact and resource heavy organizations (discussed in-detail in the following question). These partnerships may involve a tangible financial contribution, but more often, intangible resources — like critical connections — that allow us to reach potential customers/employees, as well as amplify our brand. We’re also applying to unique opportunities, like The Elevate Prize (we discuss this in-detail in the Partnership Opportunities section).
To address the cultural and market barriers that complicate our work in foreign contexts, we’re 1) partnering with trusted, country-specific organizations on cyberbullying educational campaigns, as well as 2) working with international partners to educate ourselves. By working with organizations that global communities trust, we believe we can effectively spread awareness about the problem cyberbullying does (or will!) pose to young people. With that said, we’re also conscious that we have a lot to learn re: how this issue is understood in other contexts, so, through the connections we have, we’re working to understand foreign markets (what language to use, what themes to avoid, etc.) before we launch there.
Finally, to address the forthcoming challenges associated with our technical development, we’re turning to incubators that we collaborate with — the Harvard Innovation Labs, for example — for subsidized technical talent and overhead/infrastructure. We’re also currently reaching out to other tech communities in Boston/Chicago for additional support. Soon, we hope, we’ll have the capital for a long-term solution.
We currently partner with a myriad of organizations, including:
ReThink works with these organizations in different ways; no one partnership is the same (areas of collaboration, partnership objectives, etc. all differ). With that said, this is a brief overview of how we work these entities:
We know that teens aren’t likely to download ReThink themselves — so our business model brings the ReThink technology to young people via individuals who oversee teen device use: schools, and parents.
Via our “WeThinkReThink” Program, we implement and support a school-specific version of the ReThink app on school devices. Through the app, we collect aggregate data on a school’s use of ReThink (how effective is ReThink?, etc.), and provide schools with these statistics. We also provide schools a grade-specific, K-12 digital citizenship educational curriculum to complement the ReThink technology. In return, schools pay us an annual subscription fee, ranging from $500 – $1500 (the exact price tag depends on both 1) the size of the school, and 2) financial need). Many schools see devices as a liability, and an affordable technology product to tackle online hate is the perfect solution. Since 2019, WeThinkReThink has been financially sustainable.
Our second distribution channel focuses on parents, many of whom individually download the ReThink app onto a child’s device. Currently, an individual download is free, but we’re looking to capitalize on these downloads via ReThinkExtra, an in-app purchase for parents. ReThinkExtra will offer parents the features that they’ve told us they want most: data/analytics on how ReThink is working with their child, the ability to “lock in” the ReThink Keyboard, etc. We’re aiming for a release of ReThinkExtra in 12/20; priced at just $1 a month, it’ll provide parents an effective, educational anti-hate solution (and peace of mind).
ReThink is currently financially sustainable; to continue on that path, we’re pursuing a combination of the aforementioned strategies:
ReThink is seeking to raise funds for our project. Our desire to raise funds is discussed extensively elsewhere in this application, but as a summary: we’re hoping to raise funds to 1) make ReThink available in a number of international languages and effectively break into foreign markets, 2) advance the ReThink technology, whether by building new features (such as ReThinkExtra), or adding new functionality to the app (the ability to detect offensive images, for example), 3) to adapt to our changing needs (infrastructure, etc.) and scale to growing interest, and 4) invest in RandD, to ensure ReThink is innovating/pursuing cutting-edge work.
Currently, the make-up of the funds we’re seeking to raise are as follows:
Given that these answers will be publicly viewable, I can’t provide any specific monetary amounts/a line item breakdown (apologies!). With that said, I can provide a broader breakdown of our current and expected key expenses:
We’re applying for The Elevate Prize because we know it can help ReThink overcome the barriers ahead of us — here’s how:
Our partnership goals include: