Honing In On Conversation
People might say things they don’t mean, but why take that chance?
- By Zeke Fraint
- May 01, 2016
College and university, corporate, and hospital campuses are all
understood to be safe environments. Inevitably, they become
easy targets for social media abuse resulting in security threats,
and open venues that encourage community gathering. Each organization
maintains a level of responsibility for the safety and
well-being of its members, employees and visitors alike. Social media can, and
should, be leveraged as a flexible and transparent tool that can help achieve these
goals by allowing the end-users to be aware of what is happening in the community
and engaging with the community when necessary. However, the ability to hone
in on conversations at specific locations is the key to building awareness amidst a
constantly flowing stream of available data.
University campuses face a particularly delicate challenge in that their demographics
are exactly the highest producers of social media content. How to sift
through the noise for the value can be enhanced with location-based data. Corporate
campuses, where employees spend so much of their time, must provide a safe
environment so that people can be free to work without constant worry, while other
campuses, such as hospitals, have many buildings spread out geographically, which
can be difficult to manage when considering the open environment they foster.
TOP 5 CHALLENGES
Before discussing the ways in which our institutions are proactively working to
keep up with the constant stream of social media, it is important to recognize the
challenges therein across different types of entities.
Deciphering the threats—be it bullying, security or otherwise—is a difficult and
delicate task. People are brazen and they sometimes say things they don’t mean.
On the other hand, dismissing legitimate threats as immature behavior is a step
that institutions all over the country are hesitant to take. It is vital to know and
understand the threats being made, who is making the threat, who is being threatened,
how serious is it, and what can we do to stop it. This is much easier said than
done as the volume and veracity of the threats compete with our limited resources,
time and otherwise.
The amount of Open Source data is vast and growing every day. In order to mitigate
risks and engage with the community, analysts need access to the right data.
What is the right data? It is the information that is both actionable (or at least leads
to actionable intelligence) and verifiable. How do analysts figure out what data
meets both criteria? Platforms that pull open-source and location-specific social
data allow the end-users to cut through the noise to data that is tied to the location
Anonymity apps are a unique challenge on two fronts. First, who is responsible for
the threatening post? Second, how does a campus mitigate against an unknown?
This is a challenge that must be overcome with creative technology solutions.
The viral, fast-paced nature and capabilities of social media make it challenging
for authorities to keep up with threats or posts of any kind. Anyone can quickly
voice frustration, garner support for a cause, engage the masses and convert from
an online presence into a physical one. When it comes to analyzing and mitigating
potential and viable threats, the viral nature and speed of the internet is a serious
challenge that requires authorities to have the proper tools to meet the test.
The constant emergence of new applications makes it difficult for any authority
to be current.
COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES
On college and university campuses, meeting these challenges head on requires a multi-prong approach that includes
risk mitigation techniques, community
engagement and education, and effective
tools. As Marc Lovicott, the public
information officer at University Wisconsin
in Madison, said, “at Wisconsin,
social media has been really helpful
in solving campus crimes.”
Crimes on university campuses are
particularly sensitive due to the population
at risk. Likewise, policing on
university campuses is also particularly
sensitive due to the high level of
interaction between the populous and
the policing element. Additionally, oncampus
police are generally tasked with
being more tolerant and open in order
to ensure the atmosphere of independence
and freedom on college campuses.
At first glance, it may seem as though
this prevents campus police from doing
their jobs well, but the contrary is true.
Campus police as implicitly forced to
be more creative in effectively ensuring
both safety and the civic rights of
their constituents: namely, freedom of
speech and protest. As such, turning to
social media as a tool to both understand
the sentiment within the community
as well as engage with it, has led to
improved campus policing overall.
The “other means” include social
media community engagement to reach
out to those who may have information
about a crime or a threat. Social media
has helped campuses identify witnesses
and suspects, as well as given campus
administrators a head start on potential
combustible situations, thus mitigating
the threat early on.
Combatting online issues is both a
preventative measure against escalation
to real violence, as well as an educational
opportunity for the community to
preach appropriate social media usage.
Gary Margolis, manager of the National
Center for Campus Public Safety
is quoted in the Wall Street Journal saying
“It used to take a lot more work to
generate a gathering. Now one tweet
and you’ve just reached 40 people. Everyone
has their own mass communications
device in their pocket.”
Margolis’ point is well-taken and can
be used to further ensure public safety
by leveraging social media to protect
and communicate, which is what policing
is really about. Policing, particularly
campus environments, is meant
to serve and protect in a tangible and
non-threatening manner. Online issues
can be resolved safely by getting out
in front of them before they escalate.
Early signal to emerging threats online
can be detected with available technology,
allowing the engagement to begin
earlier, and more directly, than ever
before. Additionally, those responsible
for our safety can, through social media
engagement, communicate instructions
during ongoing events or threats.
This is an effective and mass-audience
use for social media to be used for public
good, and can also be scaled across
campuses and communities with ease.
OFFICE PARKS AND CAMPUSES
Large corporations have campuses, as
do government institutions. Corporate
and campus security, with a particular
focus around employee and visitor
safety is crucial to the success of the
business and culture of the community.
If people feel comfortable on-site they
have one less thing to worry about, and
one more way to be productive members
of the community. For those responsible
for ensuring this level of safety,
being able to understand and know
what is going on. Is there a disgruntled
former employee on the premises? Was
there a fight in the locker room? Is the
first step for all those responsible for a
community? Securing and communicating
with those constituents in order
to produce a safe environment can be
greatly assisted by appropriately leveraging
open-source data around a specific
Addressing the challenges around
the use of social media is not a onesize-
fits-all approach. Depending on
the campus size, demographics and
location, as well as the type of facility,
industry and the surrounding environment
of each location, deploying
the right strategy for the use of social
media effectively is critical. Ensuring
corporate executives, staff, assets and
intellectual property are best protected
is the mission of the security teams and
the constant flow of social media data
is a real-time information source that
cannot be ignored.
Access to location-based data-sources,
social media principal among them,
gives those tasked with safeguarding
our communities a pulse on what is
going on around the area of interest.
Acknowledging the value of this dataset
is but the first step in realizing its
communal power. We ask that those responsible
for our safety do all that is in
their power, within acceptable means, to
ensure that we can go to and from in a
secure environment. Preventing anyone
in this position from doing so would
be taking a tool out of their toolbox
and thus reducing our level of security.
When leveraged responsibly by trained
professionals, there are few resources
available more powerfully accurate to
the mood of the community than opensource
location-based social media.
Hospitals have to walk the line between
offering an open and welcoming atmosphere,
while simultaneously providing
a safe and secure environment. The
main missions of keeping people safe,
property secure and information from
getting into the wrong hands are difficult
to carry out. Emotions can run
high as people are sick, grieving, on
the mend and sometimes having their
‘worst days’ with extremely raw emotions.
In those circumstances, people
often act out in a stressful situation in
ways they normally would not. This
can lead to violent attacks and assaults by patients and/or their families against hospital staff and security.
Furthermore, hospital campuses are also logistically difficult to manage due
to the expansive campuses, open visiting hours, resulting in hundreds of individuals
coming and going each day, as well as extremely private information
pertaining to patient records. This combination makes the need to listen to the
sentiment onsite all the more relevant. Public safety, the safety of those working
at hospitals and those visiting them, can be enhanced by simply being aware of
the emotional swings on the ground so that the relevant elements can preempt
and respond accordingly. Leveraging the open-source data that is available within
your own hospital campus is a way for you to be everywhere without actually
What can we do to help? Location-based platforms are uniquely sensitive to
campus issues and dynamics because they live within the geography where they are
deployed. Local end-users can understand the issues and dynamics that are particular
to a campus or community. By focusing on the location of the posts we can
hone in on issues campuses are facing at home - everything from active shooters to
hazing to online bullying.
It’s hard to know how to get started with the volume of constant flowing social
media data being shared today. Here are the top 5 recommendations to get access
to actionable social media data and start predicting, analyzing and acting on the
real-time information today:
Start with Location: By narrowing the location focus of social media, social
data from specific campus locations (buildings, streets, arenas, parking lots, etc.)
as well as surrounding areas of campus, provides the most actionable information.
First focus locally, then take into consideration national or global trends for the
Real Time: Monitoring content as it’s created improves response time and efficiency.
Many campuses have a command center or operations center that listens
and analyzes many different data sources 24/7. Social media platforms that deliver
real-time content and analytics provide instant intelligence to inform decisions
about resource deployment and response strategies.
Automate: Effectively detecting the signals from the noise can be a full-time job
without automated alerts to provide the most actionable posts. Alerts can be generated
on many platforms based on keyword, user or even an emoji. With these alerts,
officials can more effectively respond to social media activity and mitigate risk.
Analyze: Mining archived data to identify keyword trends, time-based activity,
influential posters, activity trends, social media sources and more enhances realtime
and future responses for the most effective strategies. In addition to historic
data analysis, applying date, time, keyword, username and network filters allows
for quick access to the most relevant content in real time.
Go Mobile: Mobile applications of social media intelligence platforms enhance
the information sharing between departments and greatly improve situational
awareness for teams on the go. Information can be sent directly to mobile devices
of team members in the field, ensuring faster and more effective responses.
All campuses, university, corporate and hospitals alike would benefit from listening
to and engaging with their constituents. Enhanced safety, without being overbearing,
can be achieved by getting out in front of emerging issues in your geographic
area of concern. Those responsible for ensuring safety must take
steps to keep up, and using tools that bring to you the relevant
data, that filters out the irrelevant, allows you to uncover patterns
and trends and connect the dots with location-based social data is
the first step to take in today’s fast-paced environment.
This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of Security Today.