Using Natural Language Processing and Qualitative Analysis to Intervene in Gang Violence: A Collaboration Between Social Work Researchers and Data Scientists

Desmond Upton Patton, Kathleen McKeown, Owen Rambow, Jamie Macbeth

The U.S. has the highest rate of firearm-related deaths when compared to other industrialized countries. Violence particularly affects low-income, urban neighborhoods in cities like Chicago, which saw a 40% increase in firearm violence from 2014 to 2015 to more than 3,000 shooting victims. While recent studies have found that urban, gang-involved individuals curate a unique and complex communication style within and between social media platforms, organizations focused on reducing gang violence are struggling to keep up with the growing complexity of social media platforms and the sheer volume of data they present. In this paper, describe the Digital Urban Violence Analysis Approach (DUVVA), a collaborative qualitative analysis method used in a collaboration between data scientists and social work researchers to develop a suite of systems for decoding the high- stress language of urban, gang-involved youth. Our approach leverages principles of grounded theory when analyzing approximately 800 tweets posted by Chicago gang members and participation of youth from Chicago neighborhoods to create a language resource for natural language processing (NLP) methods. In uncovering the unique language and communication style, we developed automated tools with the potential to detect aggressive language on social media and aid individuals and groups in performing violence prevention and interruption.

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