Desmond Patton and Kathleen McKeown: Violence on the Digital Street: Intervening in Aggression and Loss Using Qualitative Analysis and Machine Learning


Monday, February 5, 2018, 11:30am to 1:00pm


Maxwell Dworkin 119
Firearm violence remains a serious public health problem in the United States, where the overall firearm death rate is 10 times higher than other high-income countries. Cities like Chicago have seen a 53.1% increase in homicides in 2016 and 2017 due to guns. Traditional firearm violence intervention work treats the problem like an epidemic, where violent behavior transmits and spreads based on exposure through face-to face interactions. However, contemporary violence prevention and intervention strategies exclude social media as a risk factor for firearm violence nor are there tools available to community based organizations for early detection of social media content that may be threatening. We address this critical gap in assessing social media as a risk factor for firearm violence by utilizing qualitative analysis and community member expertise to annotate a social media corpus of archived Twitter from youth and young adults in high-risk neighborhoods in Chicago. This rich annotation is then used as data for a semi-supervised machine learning approach to automatically detect expressions of aggression and loss. Our approach uses an ensemble of distantly supervised methods to analyze the language and emojis of the tweets.

Dr. Desmond Upton Patton is an assistant professor at the Columbia School of Social Work, Fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard university and Faculty Affiliate of the Social Intervention Group (SIG) and the Data Science Institute. He directs the SAFElab where his team utilizes qualitative and computational data collection methods to examine how and why interpersonal conflict and violence, trauma, grief and identity are expressed on social media and the real world impact they have on well-being for low-income youth of color.

His current research projects examine:

  1. How gang involved youth conceptualize threats on social media
  2. The extent to which social media shapes and facilitates interpersonal conflict and interrupts grief.
  3. Developing an online tool for detecting aggression, grief and substance use in social media posts and images in partnership with the Data Science Institute at Columbia.

Dr. Patton’s research on Internet Banging has been discussed on several media outlets, including the New York Times, New York Magazine, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, NPR, ABC News, and Vice; it was most recently cited in an Amici Curae Brief submitted to the United States Supreme Court in the Elonis v. United States case which examined the issues of interpreting threats on social media. Before coming to Columbia in July of 2015, Dr. Patton was an assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Social Work and School of Information. He received a BA in Anthropology and Political Science, with honors, from the University of North Carolina- Greensboro, an MSW from the University of Michigan School of Social Work, and a PhD in Social Service Administration from the University of Chicago. Dr. Patton is the 2018 Society for Social Work and Research Deborah Padgett Early Career Award Achievement Winner.

Dr. Kathleen R. McKeown is the Henry and Gertrude Rothschild Professor of Computer Science at Columbia University and the Founding Director of the Data Science Institute. She served as Director from 2012 to 2017. In earlier years, she served as Department Chair from 1998-2003 and as Vice Dean for Research for the School of Engineering and Applied Science for two years. A leading scholar and researcher in the field of natural language processing, McKeown focuses her research on big data; her interests include text summarization, question answering, natural language generation, and multilingual applications. She has received numerous honors and awards, including AAAI Fellow, a Founding Fellow of the Association for Computational Linguistics and an ACM Fellow. Early on she received the National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator Award, and a National Science Foundation Faculty Award for Women. In 2010, she won both the Columbia Great Teacher Award—an honor bestowed by the students—and the Anita Borg Woman of Vision Award for Innovation. McKeown served as secretary and board member of the Computing Research Association. She was president, vice president, and secretary treasurer of the Association of Computational Linguistics (ACL), a member of the Executive Council of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence (AAAI), the co-program chair of AAAI in 1991 and conference chair of ACL in 2008. She currently serves as co-chair of the National Academies Roundtable on Data Science Education.