It's like spellcheck for trolls

By Lauren Mazzo
Updated: March 24, 2016

Raise your hand if you've ever posted something on social media that you kind of regretted later (insert hand-raising emoji here). Good news: If you have trouble controlling your passive aggressive Facebook posts, tweets, and Instagram comments when you've had a few too many at happy hour, there's a new development in the tech world that might help.

Enter Reword, a new Chrome extension that stops users before they post or send negative comments online. It uses a technology similar to spell check that recognizes words and phrases that are considered unkind and crosses them out with a red line. The extension was created by headspace, Australia's National Youth Mental Health Foundation, as part of an effort to combat cyberbullying. And it should help-according to tests by headspace, 79 percent of people age 12 to 25 are willing to "reword" their posts when they see the strikethrough in the text.

This comes amidst an anti-bullying effort, with participation from major influencers like Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift. There's a reason this is such a big issue; it can be seriously damaging to young people's health. Childhood bullying can lead to long-term mental health problems, including higher rates of anxiety, depression, and personality disorders, according to Dieter Wolke, Ph.D. developmental psychologist at the University of Warwick.

When you experience bullying, it's perceived as a threat (to both your body or your social standing), so your brain releases cortisol (the stress hormone), which raises your blood pressure and heart rate, dilates your pupils, and gets your body ready to defend itself, according to PTSD researchers. While your brain and body usually return to normal within a few hours (sometimes sooner), severe bullying leaves your brain "stuck" in high-alert status when it should be calm. This can permanently cause your neurons to lose elasticity and the lesson their ability to recover quickly from small stressors. (Whether from cyberbullying or something else, here's How to Calm Down, Even When You're About to Freak Out.)

Social media is already a slippery slope when it comes to your mental health. Because most users tend to "airbrush reality" on their social accounts, you're probably comparing yourself to others' carefully curated digital lives. In fact, a study done in Germany found that more time spent on Facebook led to negative emotions (like loneliness and envy). Add bullying to the mix, and it just gets worse.

The caveat: People who troll social media and other sites oftentimes so do on purpose. If they are the type who like to get a rise out of innocent internet users by picking fights and spewing insults, they're not going to download an extension that will prevent them from doing so. Reword may be a better tool for parents who want to make sure their teens are thinking twice before hitting "send." (But don't think this issue is just about teens; there are adult bullies too.) While this extension could help weed some of the haters out of your Instagram, the real win is when you don't like their negatively get you down.



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