Using Social Media to Identify Campus Threats

Using Social Media to Identify Campus Threats

Schools are mining student's social media posts for signs of trouble.

With the dawn of the information age came the unfiltered use of social media. While this new data set is still new, some companies have begun to mine the data created and shared on social media platforms and use it to create alerts for campuses to identify potential threats. This way, campus officials can be proactive, rather than reactive.

Wired recently spoke to a school district in Michigan about their implementation of social media analytics provided by Firestorm, a Georgia company that also helps schools develop safety and response policies. The service scans through social media posts using keywords and machine learning algorithms to flag public posts that contain language or images that may suggest conflict or violence, and tag or mention district schools or communities.

"If someone posts something threatening to someone else, we can contact families and work with the students before it gets to the point of a fight happening in school," Lakewood School District Superintendent Blake Prewitt told Wired.

Firestorm will send a report of all detected posts to a school official and from there the school can decide whether or not they want to follow up with the student or students. The company emphasizes that they only scan public posts, targeting topics and location not individuals.

Prewitt told Wired of a morning when he thought they had a potential active shooter alert, but the posted ended up being about a school of the same name in Chicago.

"There's always follow-up that needs to be down, but I would rather have more information than less," he said.

About the Author

Sydny Shepard is the Executive Editor of Campus Security & Life Safety.

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