GREAT FALLS, Va. (WJLA) – A Fairfax County teenager is taking on one of the biggest problems facing his generation. Viraj Puri has a high-tech approach to get the lowdown on bullies.
The 13-year-old from Great Falls goes from being a student by day to a computer programmer by night. He’s the brains behind Bullyvention.com. It’s a website where kids who are tormented can share their struggles and join a crusade for change. It’s a “safe space” for the one in four American students who say they’re regularly tormented in school.
“It’s really becoming a big, big crisis that we all face,” said Puri.
His website battles bullies by pinpointing where the greatest number of victims are in the U.S. He created a “Heatmap” which tracks real-time cases of online bullying. It scans social media for key words that suggest someone is being harassed and then highlights where the tweet or Facebook message originated.
“If someone's saying 'you're so stupid' like that's one of the combinations we have,” explained Puri.
His goal is not only to predict the likelihood of the next bullying occurrence, but see where it’s happening geographically and get to the bottom of why bullying is more of an epidemic in some parts of our country.
The young man’s push to end the cycle of pain grew from a very personal experience. His older brother was bullied verbally and physically.
“He basically shut himself off from the outside and he didn't want to go back to school,” recalled Puri.
The 8th grader’s efforts to protect others are now being commended on Capitol Hill. Viraj has met with several lawmakers who battled bullies. His website is even backed by the Congressional Anti-Bullying Caucus.
Viraj says those are hurting need to know they can reach people in positions to make a difference. “I think if I could just save one person's life that's just a big, big deal," he said.
He admits his anti-bullying Heatmap is still a work in progress. He’s reaching out to the CEO’s of Google, Twitter and Facebook. He hopes they'll help get more data for his map and improves its accuracy.
Visit Bullyvention's website for more information.