Social Media has changed the way many people interact with the world around them which means that police departments, like Western Michigan University’s Department of Public Safety, are trying to figure out how to most effectively use it to police and keep people safe.
DPS has its own twitter account, @WMUPublicSafety, which they use to reach out to the campus community about certain safety issues but they also use social media to gather information about potential threats to students, faculty and staff.
“We have had officers monitoring social media for quite some time for assorted issues or topics, not just threats,” said Carol Dedow, DPS deputy chief. “However, it was often as time permitted and not as consistent or thorough as we needed.”
The University turned to Social Sentinel, a Burlington, Vermont based Social Threat Alert company to monitor WMU related social media posts.
“WMU chose Social Sentinel because they had the most comprehensive threat monitoring system available for what we required,” Dedow said. “Social Sentinel provides monitoring 24 hours a day, seven days a week by using computer software and programs.”
That 24/7 monitoring is looking for anything from a physical threat to members of the University community to potential mental health and self harm concerns, along with illegal activities such as destruction of property or drug distribution, Dedow said.
Social Sentinel has yet to respond to requests for comment, but their website boasts access to more than a billion posts daily with over 450,000 threat indicators with real time alerts.
This allows DPS to be on top of what is being said and done in relation to WMU on social media and act on it. The department gets about one threat alert per month from Social Sentinel, said Dedow.
“These have been primarily mental health concerns such as suicide threats,” Dedow said.
They use these notifications to reach out to the person who is potentially in danger and offer some help.