This Algorithm Will Try to Predict Which Gang Threats on Twitter Turn into IRL Violence

By Alex Zimmerman |
December 11, 2015

gangs twitterSpend a few minutes with Desmond Patton, an assistant professor of social work at Columbia University, and his research starts to sound like the premise of a sci-fi thriller. But when he explains how young people and gang members are increasingly threatening each other on social media platforms, it actually seems possible to identify violent crimes before they happen.

Patton has devoted much of his academic life to youth violence and understanding how and why gang members use social media platforms. Now, for the first time, Patton and a few data-science collaborators are trying to build on that research to create an algorithm that can read tweets and determine the likelihood that the 140-character messages will lead to physical violence. The project’s collaborators include Kathleen McKeown, director of Columbia’s Data Science Institute, and Jamie Macbeth, a computer scientist at Fairfield University in Connecticut. They’re working with Patton to develop an algorithm to decode gang member language and plan to eventually test it in New York and Chicago, cities that know a thing or two about gang violence.

I sat down with Patton to learn more about the project, and how it could change the way we address violence in marginalized communities.

Read more here:

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