Mining gang messages to save lives

While reviewing this week’s readings, a quote from “What is Digital Media?” caught my attention. “The second unique feature of networked digital media is that – because it is based on software – the people participating in the network can organize themselves into ad-hoc and arbitrary groups,” the author writes.  “This is most obviously seen in Facebook, where you can instantly and easily create a new group around any sort of topic.”

This quote brought to mind an interesting story featured on NPR’s All Tech Considered. Gangs are one of the groups that have found a new voice on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Desmond Patton, a professor at Columbia University, is mining the social media messages of gang members to create an algorithm that can be used to help identify who might commit a crime or be the next victim.  In addition to looking at conversations and images, he is analyzing emojis and hashtags that foreshadow violence. His hope is to identify at-risk youth in order to reach out to them before a crime has been committed.


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