The September 4 issue of Nature, the world’s leading multidisciplinary science journal, features the work of associate professor Desmond U. Patton and his SAFElab team, who are analyzing social media messages related to youth violence.

Dr. Patton, a social worker and digital qualitative researcher, has assembled a multidisciplinary team of young social media experts, violence specialists, and Columbia computer science experts to collect and analyze millions of Twitter messages by using artificial intelligence techniques. Dr. Kathleen McKeown, a Columbia specialist in natural language processing, is collaborating on the project. Doctoral student William R. Frey is SAFElab’s coordinator.

The team discovered that when threats of violence or revenge occur, they often follow on the heels of messages expressing grief over the death of a friend.

As Nature writer Rod McCullom reports, “What the researchers found was a regular pattern of grief leading to aggression, often as rivals taunted those in pain or used language or imagery meant to minimize the loss of a friend or insult the dead. ‘They’re going through a grieving process, and part of that process is anger and disbelief,’ says Patton. ‘Rival crews or gangs are interrupting the process. That heightens the conversation over time.’’

Mr. McCullom is a Massachusetts Institute of Technology Knight Science Journalism Fellow.

Read article: “A murdered teen, two million tweets and an experiment to fight gun violence”

Related links:

“They Are Children: How Posts on Social Media Lead to Gang Violence” (TEDx Talk)
“The Haunting Social Media Trail Left by a Teen Gang Member” (Vice article)

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