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This New Chrome Extension 'Rewords' Hateful Online Messages

The Google Chrome extension is similar to a spell check function, except instead of flagging misspelled words, it identifies insults and hateful messages and then prompts the user to write something else.

The Google Chrome extension is similar to a spell check function, except instead of flagging misspelled words, it identifies insults and hateful messages and then prompts the user to write something else. Screen grab/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Screen grab/NPR

"Once an insult is read, the damage is done."

That's from the website for Reword, a new Google Chrome extension designed to combat cyberbullying. The tool identifies insulting words in online posts and messages, and then crosses them out with a red line.

Developed in Australia by Headspace, which is Australia's National Youth Mental Health Foundation, and ad agency Leo Burnett Melbourne, Reword aims to address online abuse by preventing hateful messages before they're even posted.

"Sadly, online bullying is endemic," Headspace CEO Chris Tanti said in a news release. "The pressures on children in social media are intense. Reword is one way we can help empower them in real time."

According to a 2014 Pew Research Center study, 65 percent of young Internet users (18- to 29-year-olds) say they have been the target of online harassment. Among 18- to 24-year-olds, that figure rises to 70 percent.

Headspace says testing has shown that 79 percent of young people, which it defines as 12- to 25-year-olds, are willing to rephrase their messages when they see the red line.

The Chrome extension will soon be rolled out for other internet browsers, the company says.

The Chrome extension will soon be rolled out for other internet browsers, the company says. Screen Grab/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Screen Grab/NPR

"We're encouraged that this is a tangible online tool that will genuinely help change behaviour and reduce incidents of bullying," Tanti said in the statement.

While Reword so far is available only on Google Chrome, Headspace plans to roll out the tool on Firefox and Safari, as well.

Of course, the most obvious impediment to the success of Reword is that Internet users must choose to install the extension on their computer. While the installation process itself is relatively easy, it might not be as easy to get people who are writing hurtful things online to download the tool.

There have been other tech-based efforts to fight cyberbullying, such as a social-awareness emoji that's supposed to "get the invisible bystanders to speak up against mean things on the Web." As NPR's All-Tech Considered blog reported last year, the idea of this "I Am A Witness" campaign, is to "give teens a way to say something when they don't know what to say."

Word-flagging browser extensions also aren't new. The "In My Words" extension, for example, allows users to customize what words they see — and don't see — online. More recently, a word-changing extension launched by Last Week Tonight host John Oliver, changes Donald Trump's last name to "Drumpf," which he said was the ancestral name of the presidential contender's family.

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The "Drumpfinator" extension has been downloaded more than 477,000 times since it launched in late February, according to Chrome. Reword debuted earlier this month, and the downloads so far number less than 200.

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