High school girls develop tech to scan social media for threats
Dozens of Colorado female high school students gathered at Maxar Technologies for an event to encourage them to further their interests and capabilities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
The keynote speaker at the American Heart Association’s “Bring Stem To Life” event was 18-year-old Sherya Nallapati, a student who is working on a technology that scans social media profiles for potential mass shooting threats.
Nallapati said her technology, which she dubbed “#NeverAgainTech,” will one day scan public social media pages to look for potential concerns for mass shootings. By using historical analysis of perpetrators of the past, the technology would use an algorithm to search for key words, use of firearms and other items. She said the technology would eventually rate an online user as a possible threat, or not, which could help law enforcement gain intelligence on those individuals.
“It has only been four years [since I gained interest in STEM]. It all started when I got in to cyber security because my laptop was hacked,” Nallapati said.
Nallapati hoped her early success in developing a patent-pending software would encourage other girls to pursue STEM in a way that could better the human race, or the world. Currently, her technology is supported by more than 100 workers, most of which are girls.
“I’ve had my fair share of boundaries and stigmas that I had to actively break. And I couldn’t have done it without the support of my all-girl team,” Nallapati said.
Nallapati said her software could one day help save lives. She said some of her family members were in STEM Highlands Ranch when two gunmen entered the school, killing senior Kendrick Castillo and injuring others. She believed her technology could one day help flag some individuals as potential concerns based off of their social media — possibly giving law enforcement a head start on stopping a shooting.
“Why not take the same machine-learning algorithms that Facebook uses to post thoughts and condolences, and use it to actually understand what fundamentally constitutes the anatomy of a mass shooting?” Nallapati said. “I think that I can make a change in a realistic way. I’m not saying I can go in tomorrow and tell you which next mass shooting is going to occur at this time, or this day. There are some realistic limitations. But, at the end of the day, I hope this movement, if anything, inspires others to take lead in applying these technologies for good.”
Tom Raynes, head of the Colorado District Attorney’s Council, said the software idea was concerning, citing first amendment freedoms for those using social media platforms. Without further knowledge of how the software worked, Raynes said it was hard to comment on if the software would put innocent people on the radar of law enforcement.
Nallapati said she was working with online privacy advocates to make sure her technology did not infringe on those the technology surveyed. Though she said the software would “profile” some users,
Nallapati said she had a team of girls researching how to make sure the software did not flag individuals improperly or illegally.