ReThink founder and CEO Trisha Prabhu on what motivated her to create the app

by Larry Magid

Rethink founder Trisha Prabhu is on a mission. The 20-year-old Harvard student, who created the first version of the app when she was 13, is out to “help cultivate the next generation of responsible digital citizens,” she said in a 2021 Safer Internet Day video interview.

“We can only build a better internet if the folks that are on the internet are very intentional about how they’re communicating with one another,” a skill that needs to be taught, learned and practiced, she said.

The ReThink app for iPhone and Android works across all your apps and monitors as you type, looking for words or phrases that might be offensive to others. It doesn’t stop you from sending it, but it does interrupt you, Prabhu said, “to give that user a chance to pause, review and rethink.”

I tested the app by typing “you’re ugly” and was immediately asked, “would you like to-re-word this?” When I typed a racially offensive term, the app suggested, “Let’s change these words to make it positive!”

Prabhu called these prompts nudges. “You can go ahead and send it if you’d like,” she added. “If folks just have a chance to pause, review and think about what they’re doing that extra moment, they often make the right decision, and we can actually stop the cyberbullying before it happens.”

As as you type a potentially offensive or mean word or phrase, the app suggests you reconsider.

Personal experiences

Prabhu, who is of Indian descent, said the app stemmed from her own experiences. “Growing up in a town that was very homogenous, I’d always been unpopular or kind of sidelined by a lot of my peers in the classroom. And then when we all got phones, a lot of that then translated to mean messages or mean comments. And for me, it was really devastating.”

To her credit, she did something extraordinary for a person of any age. “At 13, I realized, I have a choice, I can be an upstander, I can use my experiences as a member of Gen Z as someone who knows technology really well to try and innovate around this issue. Or, I can be a bystander. I decided to be an upstander,” she said.

Designed for kids and teens – suitable for adults

I don’t use mean or offensive words, but — like most people — I do get angry sometimes or perhaps a bit too intense about something I’m passionate about and, with or without the app, I need to “ReThink” what I’m tempted to say. One strategy I use is to write whatever’s on my mind but email it to myself so that I can revisit it later and, in almost every case, I wind up not sending it. That’s not to say I never express my anger, but if I really feel that way, I prefer to discuss it in person or, at least, by phone or video call.