Activist Trisha Prabhu educates community on cyberbullying, promotes app to help teens rethink messaging


Activist and Harvard University senior Trisha Prabhu spoke to seventh and eighth graders at Pelham Middle School about cyberbullying during an assembly on Thursday. Prabhu also spoke to community members during a presentation at The Picture House.

Pelham Together organized Prabhu’s appearances.

Prabhu works to inform youth about the effects of cyberbullying and the steps needed to combat the problem in the age of social media. Her presentation to the middle schoolers, titled “Rethinking Online Hate,” discussed cyberbullying, Prabhu’s journey as an anti-hate activist, how to tackle online hate and living healthier digital lives.

Prabhu said cyberbullying can be anonymous and can happen at any time of day, which can lead to it being more damaging to mental health than real-world bullying.

“The problem is getting bigger day by day, week by week,” she said. “This problem is not going away.”

Prabhu began her fight against cyberbullying at age 13 after she was a victim of online attacks. She learned the extent to which cyberbullying was affecting youth and wanted to create a solution that got to the root of the problem. Her experiences and her interest in computer science sparked the idea for the ReThink app she developed.

ReThink replaces keyboards across communication apps on cellphones and detects possibly offensive phrases or words and prompts the sender to rethink their message. After pursuing her idea, she created a survey for young people to see how they would respond to a ReThink alert. A total of 1,500 students participated in five different trials. The study showed that with the app, 93% of the time teens aged 13-18 changed their mind when asked if they wanted to send a message that might be offensive.

Prabhu also took her app on the TV show “Shark Tank.”

“I believe anything we put online is a representation of our values, how we believe we should treat other people and how we think about respect and inclusion,” Prabhu said.

More recently, Prabhu has been working on a book titled “Rethink the Internet,” which is aimed at educating youth about cyberbullying, communicating online and their digital footprint. It is scheduled to come out in May.

The book is composed of seven fictional short stories where a character goes through a challenge related to social media. The book closes with an internet kindness challenge and lesson. Prabhu said she worked to strike a balance between young people finding the book interesting and relatable and keeping the book informative and educational.

“Try to the best of your ability to be intentional,” Prabhu said. “Think about how what you’re saying represents who you are. That’s how the world’s going to judge you, for better or for worse.”

In the fall, Prabhu will attend Oxford University, where she will pursue a master’s in Internet Studies. She plans to research how to devise better technical solutions to challenges online. She said she will continue to grow her app efforts while also developing other methods of preventing cyberbullying.

“At 13 years old, I didn’t know this would become my life’s work. However, I realized that there was such a need for this. A lot of work remains.”