This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
Last year, Viraj Puri, a 13-year-old student from Virginia, created a bullying-prevention blog to "use technology to bring lawmakers and teens together."
Now he has developed a live social media "heatmap" that tracks, geographically, mentions of bullying.
His goal: partner with university data scientists, along with Twitter and Facebook, to take the mapping to the next level (it's still in its beta phase). Eventually, Puri plans to build a "Bullying Index" for communities.
"Our goal is not only to 'predict' the likelihood of the next bullying occurrence but see where it's happening geographically, which begs the question 'Why it is more of an epidemic in some areas of the country over others?'" said Puri in a press release. "New homeowners look at the quality of schools, crime, jobs etc. when they are looking to move into a new area. Parents should have an indicator as to how bullying is in each county, city and school district across the United States . . . This will put more focus on quality of life and get lawmakers to address this very important issue."
"With every post and story that appears in the headlines, I want to compile where bullying is a problem . . . and identify possible geographic pockets where bullying problems exist around the United States," Puri said
The challenge for Puri will be to differentiate between when people are turning to social media to address bullying because it's a problem in their life versus when people in a region are spurred to advocate for anti-bullying measures because of national events. The heatmap, as seen above, shows where mentions of "bullying," "cyberbullying," or "bully" are highest, but that doesn't necessarily mean that bullying is worse in those areas. It could mean the opposite, that more people are engaging with anti-bullying tweets or Facebook posts.
Still, it's an impressive and ambitious goal to help illuminate a widespread and damaging problem. But it's not just a problem in schools. There's New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's recent bullying controversy to bullying in academia, from the classroom to the Facebook wall. In the U.S., about one-third of teens are bullies or are bullied (or both). It's a problem that can lead to thousands of ER visits each year and metal health issues later in life.
Even though some anti-bullying programs have been unsuccessful, using data to track where bullying is taking place could, at the very least, push communities to more fully engage with the problem.