Regular readers of our blog are probably aware that typically I like to write about the off-beat, quirky, fun uses of big data and data analytics.
Today, however, I’m going to focus on an extremely serious subject – bullying – and how Viraj Puri, a 13-year-old boy from Virginia, is using big data to try and put an end to it.
The fact is bullying affects nearly one in three American schoolchildren in grades six through 10. Viraj’s brother was one of those children.
Viraj tells the BBC that when his older brother was in middle school several years ago, he was verbally and physically abused on the bus and at school. The brothers were extremely close and Viraj was very hurt and upset by what his brother was going through.
“He used to come home quiet and lock himself in his room and we didn’t really know what was happening,” Viraj says.
So Viraj set out to put a stop to bullying. Using big data from social media, Viraj is pinpointing bullying hotspots across the US.
And he’s working with computer scientists to develop a heat map that tracks the mentions of bullying and cyberbullying on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to create data visualizations of where bullying occurs in the US.
“It’s a map of the United States – 280 points all across the map, all equi-distantly separated,” Viraj tells the BBC interviewer. “
Through using algorithms from social networking websites like Twitter, Facebook and Google+, we’ve kind of been able to narrow down where bullying would occur the most on the map in specific districts and areas,” he says. “So on the map you can see in East Coast metropolitan areas like Virginia, DC or New York, there’s a lot of bullying there.”
Viraj is getting some help to develop his bullying heat map from Kalev Leetaru, Yahoo Fellow, Georgetown University.
When Hurricane Sandy devastated the East Coast in 2012, Leetaru, a big data analyst, used social media to map the emotional response of people across the country to the devastating storm, using red to pinpoint negative reactions and blue for positive reactions.
“We’re reached a point where to build a heat map of bullying you don’t need a team of hundreds of programmers and your own data center to do it,” Leetaru says.
“You can be a 13 year old with a really great idea and say ‘I wonder what would happen if we mapped bullying across this country? What would that look like? And could we use that to understand areas where there is more or less bullying and take action based on that?’” he adds
Vijay has also created Bullyvention, a website aimed at raising awareness of the widespread problem of bullying. And he’s collaborating on the issue with the Congressional Anti-Bullying Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The 13-year-old is also working to make his map as accurate as possible with real-time updates. And he hopes further technological developments will enable him to predict bullying hotspots, helping the authorities to intervene.
“Even if I save just one person from committing suicide, then that’s a big difference right there,” he says.