Battling the Bullies

A Vienna student takes on the epidemic on a national scale.

By Lynn Norusis

Photo courtesy of Suzanne Tucker/Shutterstock.com.

One cannot read a newspaper, turn on the news or check a Twitter feed without the topic of the bullying epidemic surfacing. We all know it is happening. We opine about ways to bring it to a halt. We watch documentaries about it. But that is where we stop. For 13-year-old Viraj Puri, he saw the affects of bullying in his own home, and he vowed to do something about it.

Puri has a brother, a little more than two years older, who he used to be extremely close with. One day it stopped. “He would lock himself in his room and he’d feel alone,” says Puri. “I really wanted to do something to help him.”

A then-11-year old Puri started Bullyvention. It took 9 months to get the site up and running, later adding in interviews with lawmakers, superintendents and businessmen. He has worked with big data scientists from Georgetown University and the University of Wisconsin integrating heat maps that track bullying accounts on social media.

“The heat map (in beta form) shows where bullying occurs the most [through social media outlets such as Twitter],” he explains. Puri hopes that as the heat maps grow (currently the maps use only 1 percent of Twitter data) and incorporate a larger share of social media it will put pressure on people to look at bullying in their own communities.

“When people buy a home they look at the best schools, best communities, I also want to encourage them to look at the amount of bullying. This will put pressure on the local authority to get rid of bullying in that specific area.”

With the growing support of Bullyvention—Puri has received remarks in Congress, and a letter from President Obama—Puri is hoping the CEOs of Twitter, Facebook and Google+ will join in his efforts, allowing access to their data so the heat maps can become more accurate. “I want to make sure bullying is not happening anywhere, to make teens feel safe. I want them to not feel like they are alone.”

Puri’s brother has moved into a new school and the bullying has stopped. He and his brother are back to being almost inseparable. 

(March 2014)

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