A new study by a team of researchers is calling attention to how gang members use Twitter and other social media.

Columbia University Associate Professor Desmond Patton and four colleagues published the results of their study, which identified the escalation of the words exchanged and posted on social media as a growing public-health threat, the Chicago Sun Times reports.

The team looked extensively at the Twitter account of reputed Chicago gang assassin Gakirah Barnes, a 17-year-old girl who was gunned down in 2014. She was a suspect in one murder and several shootings, the Sun Times said.

According to the newspaper, Barnes posted more than 27,000 tweets between 2011 and the time of her death. She’s described as a social media celebrity, with more than 2,500 Twitter followers. She often tweeted violent threats, and was killed after identifying a hit.

In the study, Patton and his team members looked closely at about 400 of Barnes’ tweets and 2,100 tweets from her followers.

Patton explained the escalation process to the Chicago Sun Times:

“By the time these people have met face to face, they have already had their argument online. They have their guns and their friends, and it’s on.”

The professor told the Sun Times that he’s partnering with Cure Violence, an organization that treats violence as a health issue. They’re working on a system to analyze tweets like Barnes’ with the goal of preventing violence.

SOURCE: Chicago Sun Times | PHOTO CREDIT: Getty

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