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Powering Social Change with Data: A Bully Case Study

At last week’s Askwith Forum, “Powering Social Change with Data: A Bully Case Study,” Nancy Lublin, CEO of, along with Data Scientist Jeff Bladt, presented findings on what is arguably the leading issue facing youth today: bullying.

In a powerful presentation, Lublin stressed that young people are thought leaders right now. She told the audience that late pop singer Whitney Houston was wrong when she sang that the children are our future.  “Remember that we hate that song,” she said. “It’s the wrong message. Children are powerful now.”

The notion that children can make a difference is exactly what – an organization with 2.4 million members dedicated to calling teens to action and making social change – is all about. Over the years, the organization has successfully produced campaigns on teen pregnancy, animal rights, and homelessness. And, now, it is looking at how to tackle the crisis of bullying.

In April 2012, began collecting information on bullying via the Facebook application, “The Bully Project,” in conjunction with the film Bully and the Einhorn Foundation. The application was originally intended to offer students a forum where they could grade the prevalence of bullying at their schools by answering eight close-ended questions about the frequency, variety, and location of bullying, as well as one open-ended question on how they would like to see the issue addressed.

Over 200,000 people installed the app on Facebook and the data provided some insight into how teens view bullying. For example, the data revealed that bullying is the number one issue students want to take action on, 88 percent of teens view bullying as a problem, gender slightly alters student’s perception of the problem, and charter schools fair slightly better in the bullying problems.

As a result of the data, is making some changes to try to address bullying, starting by adding a full-time position focused on this issue to their 50-person team. Additionally, the group has developed an SMS game that allows them to choose ways to intervene in bullying.

Professor Robert Selman applauded their work and expressed interest in working with, but also questioned the organization’s dedication to working on issues like bullying. “I really want to speak to the sustainability … so will you stick with this?” Selman asked, noting the organization’s quick approach to tackling issues. “If you don’t stick to the problems, then you’re not going to solve it.”

Lublin said the focus of was less about changing behavior — because the organization already believes young people are great now — and more about fighting teens’ apathy. In closing, she urged the audience to take a look at the data on the website. “I encourage you to take the information and make something of it,” she said.