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Social media is coming into focus for experts who are trying to prevent school violence, according to a new report.

Gizmodo reports that schools now are turning to those Facebook and other media posts “for the earliest signs of violence – depression, resentment, and isolation.”

Gary Margolis of Social Sentinel, a data analytics company, told a National Public Radio affiliate that his company has created a library of 450,000 indicators of potential trouble.

One school that has turned to his expertise is Shawsheen Valley Technical High School in Massachusetts, because the technology is apparently able to use the type of threat detection police agencies already use to identify students at risk.

“We went back, for example, and looked at the language that school shooters, as one example, have used in the past in various manifestos — what’s been published or that they’ve shared on social media,” Margolis told the publication. “And we went to understand similarities and patterns. And we can teach computers, to an extent, how to identify some of that nuance.”

The report said social media posts frequently are open to some type of metadata analysis without those who post it realizing.

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“The complexity of this analysis means the service, ideally, flags accounts before any explicit threats are made and lets the school intervene with social services,” the report said, even though Margulis confirmed his technology is not a surveillance, monitoring or investigative tool.

Other schools testing the temperature of the water include the Miami-Dade district, which sought $30 million in state funds for its security system, including staff to hunt through social media.

Wilson County, Tennessee, has a program, and in Fresno, California, officials are looking at the issue.

“While we’re all looking for preventive, proactive approaches to the school shooting crisis, many are wary of increasing surveillance to deter gun violence. In New York and Florida, schools are turning to 24/7 surveillance, face recognition and biometric database matching, and license plate readers, all technology developed for police and counterterrorism agencies. Social Sentinel worked directly with police departments before opening up its services to schools,” the report said.

The tech isn’t perfect, Margulis admits.

But it is getting attention.

“This is an expansion of the schools’ ability to police what students are doing inside of school or on campus to their outside-of-school conduct,” Kade Crockford, of the Technology for Liberty Program at the ACLU of Massachusetts, told the publication.
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