Can tracking teens’ tweets counter gang violence?


Today, 92 percent of teens in the US are online daily. Twitter and other social media sites are where young people often voice their distress, anger, or isolation. To understand teens’ traumas, Desmond Patton, an assistant professor at the School of Social Work, brings social work and data science together with social media analyses that help communities predict, prevent, and intervene in gang violence.

With Kathleen McKeown, professor of computer science at the School of Engineering and Applied Science, Patton has developed a computational system that detects aggression and loss in Chicago teens’ social media activities from tweets to status updates. Tracking stresses in language patterns, Patton sees the emotional life of youth online before their turn offline to violence.

“By better understanding social media as a community context, we can learn how people interact with each other—their challenges, their supports, their strengths—and leverage that information to impact change,” said Patton.


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