Social media users are not exactly known for their controlled behavior online. However, a study by the University of Southern California (USC) has provided researchers with an AI algorithm that can use all that anger to make the world safer. The artificial intelligence is able to scan social media posts and thus create the correlation between what is written there and the chance of future violence, for example during protests. All anger on social media could thus contribute to reducing violence in the world, ironically enough.
The algorithm was trained by looking at posts on Twitter at the time of the protest in Baltimore in 2015 and thus the researchers were able to see flawlessly that mainly moralistic tweets (so things where people really on one side of a discussion and the people on the other side really do not understand) were a good indicator of upcoming violence. More of that kind of tweets were equal to more arrests, with peaks on the days when the police came to a violent confrontation with protesters.
The AI uncovered a pattern that the researchers call “moral convergence,” where a large number of people are convinced of their moral sense and feel strengthened because they think others find this too. Communication on social media then leads to confirmation of that idea and that can be the spark that can ‘light’ a protest.
The researchers tested this theory with a number of controlled behavioral experiments and they also saw that moral convergence occurred. Now that is of course not the only thing that can make a protest violent, but it is an important factor to keep an eye on. The idea is therefore to refine the AI so that in critical situations the authorities can take this into account. If you as an enforcement authority do not have to rely on your feeling to know that it might be going to escalate a lot, you can be more cautious and try to avoid any kind of conflict. If the algorithm could be used that way, it would be nice, but perhaps America is not the best place to test it, as reducing violence does not appear to be high on the authorities’ agenda.