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Social Media Tool Monitors for Possible Problems

A technology company in Halifax is testing software that analyzes social media commentary to identify potential risks worth alerting law enforcement and schools about. Social Navigator is running a beta trial of LifeRaft with university and law enforcement users in the United States and Canada, including the University of Southern California and Saint Mary's University in Halifax.

LifeRaft crawls the major social media sites, including twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and others. Based on a combination of keywords, terms and specific URLs, as well as sentiment and geofencing, the company said, the software will report on conversations "of interest" and provide precise location of individual posts. The service sends automated alerts to mobile devices of authorized users and lets them drill into conversations, relationships and history to gain a contextual understanding of an individual's online comments.

The data is used to create profiles that pose possible risks in a given location. Often, social media has become a public forum for people intent on doing harm to post their plans. That was the case in California, in which six University of California Santa Barbara students were killed and many more were injured; the shooter had posted a video to YouTube providing a rundown on the motives for his planned attack.

The company said the program would also be useful in higher education to monitor for signs of depression and self-harm.

"Development of LifeRaft began in 2013 as we saw the need for this type of intelligent monitoring tool continue to grow with the dominance of social media and the opportunity to assist in perhaps preventing some of the tragic situations we are witnessing," said Brian Perry, co-founder of the company.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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