Is Twitter the Leading Edge of Predicting Chicago Violence?

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Is a careful reading of Twitter the key to predicting future gun violence in Chicago and elsewhere? Desmond Patton, a Columbia University professor, thinks so. He writes for The Trace, “For the past four years, I have examined the relationship between Twitter activity and gang violence among young people who live in Chicago…I work with social workers to accurately decode what teens are saying, and collaborate with data scientists to detect patterns in social media communication that may lead to gang violence. The process often feels like an archaeological dig, carefully combing through Twitter conversations, studying emojis and hashtags, videos and images, to figure out the cues that often end with gunfire erupting.”

Patton notes that Chicago police have cited social media as a factor in the city’s surging violence. Patton writes, “Their diagnosis may sound to some like an attempt to duck responsibility for the failure of the local law enforcement system to interdict more illegal firearms or do more to stop repeat shooters before they injure or kill again. But having studied the phenomenon – known in the academic community as internet- or cyber-banging – I can tell you that the frequency with which young people use platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to hurl insults, taunt enemies, and brag about violent acts is playing a meaningful role in fueling retaliatory efforts between gangs and cliques in marginalized neighborhoods. It also has significant implications for gun violence prevention.”

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