How ‘E-Responders’ Use Social Media to Stem Violence

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“Cyberbanging,” young people provoking each other via social media, can turn deadly, escalating to threats, shootings, and reprisals, reports CityLab. The New York City Police Department is surveilling such threats, a tactic that distresses some city residents, especially when investigators pose as attractive young women to connect with the private accounts of suspected gang members. Some community members have also begun to monitor high-risk youth online, with an eye to calming conflicts and keeping them safe. A new report from the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City shows how community interventions in online disputes aim to stem real-world gun violence.

The commission, working with New York University’s Steinhardt School, launched a pilot program called “E-Responder” that trained 26 anti-violence street workers in five sites to recognize online risk signs—not just threats or pictures with guns, but also expressions of grief or emotional distress—and gave them tools to help. Does it work? There’s no good way to tell how many online conflicts would have turned to shootings, but the report says the training improved street workers’ ability to identify risky social media behavior. Ninety-seven percent of their interactions with youth led to positive outcomes, like de-escalating conflict and helping youth feel better able to change their own behavior. “Extensive psychological research has shown that the evidence-based strategies employed by E-Responder are correlated with reduced violence and positive behavior change,” said commission president Richard Aborn.

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