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14-year-old scientist makes trolls think twice before hitting 'send'

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Trisha Prabhu's 'Rethink' project is a Google Science Fair finalist

Thomas Ricker / Flickr

14-year-old Trisha Prabhu plans to eventually major in neuroscience, but first she wants to solve cyberbullying. Selected as a global finalist for the Google Science Fair 2014, her Rethink project pivots around a simple concept: getting teenagers to reread hurtful messages before sending them out into the digital ether.

Preventing cyberbullying at its source

Prabhu hypothesized that adolescents might be less willing to troll others if an alert mechanism is in effect. To determine the veracity of her theory, she created the "Baseline" and the "Rethink" systems, both of which ask users if they're willing to post a series of pre-determined messages online. The difference between the two is that the latter will also warn of potential offensiveness and offer the opportunity to reconsider. Prabhu then conducted a total of 1,500 anonymous trials with teenagers ranging from ages 12 to 18. After tabulating the results, she discovered that 67 percent of those utilizing the "Baseline" system were ready to publish malicious remarks. In contrast, less than five percent of participants from the "Rethink" test group reported the same.

The young scientist is now working on a prototype to demonstrate how the "Rethink" system can be integrated with today's plethora of social media sites. "My design includes a sophisticated context-sensitive filtering system that catches truly 'mean/hurtful' messages," Prabhu writes in her project outline.