Margaret Eby
August 11, 2014 1:18 pm

Her name is Trisha Prabhu, she’s an 8th grader at Scullen Middle School in Naperville, Illinois. She loves cold milk, and is fascinated by evolution. And she’s determined to find an effective way to help prevent the rash of cyberbullying.

Prabhu, a finalist in this year’s Google Science Fair, wanted to look into the behavioral mechanisms behind online nastiness. “I want to major in neuroscience, then spend my life unraveling the secrets of the brain,” she wrote on Google’s science fair site. Her project is called “Rethink,” and it’s a beautifully simple idea: What if, before you posted a hurtful comment online, a little automated reminder made you pause, take a deep breath, and think about that vitriol?

Prabhu looked into the large number of kids ages 12 to 18 who are bullied online (over 50 percent), and noted that people might not grasp how hurtful their actions are to other people. Teenagers, Prabhu found in her research, “may not understand the potential consequences of their actions because the pre-frontal cortex isn’t developed until age 25.”

Genius much? In her project summary, Prabhu hypothesized that if kids had to read the comments again before pressing send, they might retract their insult.

“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 will be willing to post would be lesser than adolescents that are not provided with such an alert mechanism,” she wrote.

And guess what? She was right. Prabhu split 1,500 participants into two groups, both given a hurtful message. One group got the alert mechanism before sending it out, and the other did not. A whopping 93.43 percent of the group presented with the message changed their minds after receiving the alert.

“My idea is to create a scalable app that works with existing social media sites and easily adopts to any new social media sites that might show up in future,” Prabhu wrote. “I am looking forward to a future where we have conquered cyberbullying.” Soon, schools and students might be able to implement a safety net for hurtful messages on sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Prabhu’s discovery won’t necessarily prevent people bent on posting mean comments to the Internet from actually posting them. But it could stem the flow of carelessly mean posts, and help end the epidemic of cyberbullying on social media. And that is sheer brilliance.

(Featured image via)