ReThink: How Trisha Prabhu Created an App to Stop Cyberbullying (and Got $100k on Shark Tank!)
Trisha received $100,000 from Shark Tank investors Lori Greiner and Mark Cuban for ReThink, the app she created to stop cyberbullying!
16-year-old Trisha Prabhu of Naperville, Illinois, wanted to help young people make smarter decisions online—and to stop cyberbullying messages from ever being sent. She created ReThink, a browser extension that asks users to rethink potentially harmful messages before they post them. Trisha has spoken around the world about her invention. She hopes it will save lives by encouraging young people to treat each other with kindness and compassion. She spoke with Like A Boss Girls about how it all came together, and where ReThink is headed in the future…
What inspired you to invent an app to stop cyberbullying?
It really started for me in the fall of 2013. It was a normal day for me. I was coming home from school , and I happened to read this article about this girl who was only 11 years old whose name was Rebecca. She had jumped off of her town’s water tower to her death, all because she had been cyberbullied, which to me just seemed unacceptable. I could not believe that someone that age had been pushed to that kind of a place.
I started doing some research, and I very quickly learned that while social media sites are pursuing methods to try to curb cyberbullying, none of them seem to be effective. Social media sites like to try what I call “Stop, Block, and Tell.” They encourage adolescents to stop what they’re doing, block the cyberbully, and tell a parent or guardian. It sounds like a really great method, but the problem is that 9 out of 10 times, adolescents don’t tell anyone that they’re being cyberbullied. So what you end up with are these kids who spiral downward into depression, low self-esteem, and eventually suicidal tendencies. It’s a horrible cycle, and I realized I needed an effective solution to try and curb this. That’s where ReThink was born.
How does ReThink help stop cyberbullying?
Right now, it’s being developed as a browser extension. Obviously, it works a lot better on the Chrome browser, because it’s much more adaptable. We’d like to work with a variety of social media sites in the future. After it’s finished being developed as a Chrome extension, we’ll be able to expand it to a mobile platform, and other browsers including Firefox and IE. We’ll keep expanding into as many platforms as possible, so we’re able to provide this resource to as many people as possible.
When do you expect the Chrome extension to be available?
It’ll be available by the end of the summer, so it’s incredible to think that a year and a half ago it was an idea, and pretty soon we’re going to be rolling it out to schools. We’re hoping to get it out to schools, to libraries, to public places. Those are usually the places that are most interested in adopting ReThink. Also right now, we’re working on opening a ReThink Ambassador program. We have schools that have pledged to ReThink cyberbullying, and we provide them with curriculum and messages to stop cyberbullying. I recently attended a ReThink Ambassador school’s cyberbullying presentation which students gave to their peers, bringing out the ReThink message. So that’s another thing we try to do to spread awareness of cyberbullying across the nation.
Do you have a technical background?
I do have a bit of a technical background. I started to code when I was ten, but I’ve never been the kind of person that wanted to just create an app and have it go viral. I wanted to do something that actually mattered and impacted people’s lives. I came up with the idea of ReThink because I’ve always been fascinated by the brain. As much as I love coding, I’m not sure that’s going to be my major in college. I’m thinking of studying neuroscience or cognitive science, because I really do love the brain. It’s such a fascinating part of our body.
One day I was reading this very interesting article about the brain, and it mentioned how the adolescent brain develops. The adolescent brain develops from the back to the front, meaning that the front part of our brain, which controls decision making, is the last part of the brain to develop. The prefrontal cortex is the last part of the brain to develop, and researchers have linked that part of the brain to adolescents making bad decisions when it comes to alcohol, getting into relationships, or skipping an English final… doing things we regret afterwards. We don’t have brains that are fully developed that can think through the consequences of our decisions.
So I thought, “That’s very interesting, because a lot of the times, you hear adolescents saying, ‘I felt really bad about it afterward, but it was on the Internet, and five people had already retweeted it, so I didn’t know what to do about it,’ so I thought, what if that mechanism in the brain actually applied to cyberbullying as well?”
No researchers had ever linked that part of the brain to cyberbullying, so it really was kind of a shot in the dark, but I thought why not conduct an experiment and see whether this ReThink alert works, whether it actually helps them make a better decision. Over 93% of the time, when adolescents received this alert, they changed their minds and made a better decision. So that’s really what we wanted to see—a proactive solution that helps bullies make better decisions, and that helps victims not even receive those messages.
I love that it puts the responsibility on the bullies, not on the victim.
Yes, it seems wrong to put the burden on the victim, rather than on targeting the problem at the source, which is really the bully. If you really want a long-term solution to stop cyberbullying, and not a band-aid, you need to go back to where the problem starts, and the problem starts with the bully. It’s just a lot smarter to target there rather than trying to help the victim after they’re already crippled.
What has been the hardest part of making ReThink happen so far?
I think for me, the hardest part has been making it a reality, creating the Chrome extension and getting it out there to schools and communities. I’m a full-time fifteen year old—I go to school, and I’ve got so many other things to do, and it’s hard to put it all together, because I’m running this company as a one woman show. I’m the founder… I do everything really.
That’s been a challenge for me, running this all by myself, because while I think it started out as a good thing for me, it’s become difficult, because it’s a very high-potential product that doesn’t necessarily have all the resources and capital that we need right now. It’s difficult, and that’s a challenge that we face, but that’s okay, because I’m determined every day to keep going even as I face that challenge. It’s not something that I’ve overcome yet, and I don’t know if I will, but I know having that challenge every day makes me work harder, and it some ways I’m happy that it’s there.
What was it like going to London to give a TEDxTeen Talk on how to stop cyberbullying?
It was a pretty incredible experience. I’ve been so blessed in the last year and a half. I’ve been able to go to many international events. Before London, I was at Google headquarters in San Francisco presenting my ideas. After London, I went to Mumbai for TEDx. Just recently, I was at the White House for the White House Science Fair, which was incredible.
I got to meet President Obama and many other dignitaries and science experts. When you’re there, in front of the crowd, I think that’s really the best moment. When I’m up there, I’m not scared, I’m not thinking about the speech. I’m really just spreading my message. I’m having a conversation with everyone who’s tuning in live around the world and in the audience. It’s a powerful moment for all of us. Knowledge and information is power, and every time a person goes out there and spreads a message about bullying and cyberbullying, we’re able to curb it and help save lives.
What advice would you give someone else who has an idea for a browser extension or an app?
I think my biggest piece of advice is, even if it’s crazy, just go for it. Sometimes, a lot of people try to justify what they’re doing, and they’re like, “It’s so crazy, it doesn’t make any sense” or “I’m putting a ton of time into this, and I don’t know where it’s going. I’m not sure I should be doing it.” But if it’s something that you really love to do, then it’s not work.
Find something you’re passionate about and just go for it. You don’t have to be the kid with the glasses or the kid with the lab coat—I certainly never was—but you just have to go in and see what happens.
When I started ReThink, I didn’t know what its direction or its future was, I just went for it, because it was something I was passionate about that I felt had a future that could change lives. Do something that you’re passionate about and keep going. I know you’ll hear this advice a million times in your life, but don’t give up. It’s so easy to do that, but there’s so much more that you’ll gain and experience if you choose not to give up.
What are your plans for the future, and your plans for ReThink in the future?
With ReThink, hopefully we’ll be getting to mobile apps, other browsers, and reaching out to global communities as well. Right now, we’re focused on the United States, but cyberbullying affects over 1.8 billion teens around the globe. That’s something we definitely need to look into, and target, and funnel resources to those kids. I’ve been talking to CEOs and mentors that I’m lucky to have on my side, and I think there’s a lot of potential, so I am excited to see where ReThink is going to go.
I’m really interested in the cognitive sciences, in the neurosciences. I’m looking to pursue that in higher education, and also some computer science. I’m looking into integrating that in my life as I grow older. Within the next ten years, if I find a project or a new passion that allows me to help others, I’ll know I’m on the right track. That’s what I really want for myself when I grow up. I find being able to impact others is what brings me the most joy. Hopefully that is what’s in my future. It’s what I want for myself and what I hope to give to others.
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