Guest Lecturer to Discuss Teen Violence, Social Media

Guest Lecturer to Discuss Teen Violence, Social Media

Dr. Desmond Patton, social work researcher at Columbia University, will deliver keynote addresses at the Ethel H. Hall African American Heritage Month Celebration.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – A community discussion about teen violence and social media will kick off the annual Ethel H. Hall African American Heritage Month Celebration on Thursday, Feb. 16, at The University of Alabama.

Dr. Desmond Patton, assistant professor of social work at Columbia University, studies the links between social media and offline community violence, particularly in young people of color who live in urban areas. Patton has discussed his research in academic and social work settings, and his work has been featured in such national news outlets as NPR and USA Today.

Thursday, Patton will begin a new approach: bringing his research directly to young people. The “Teen Talk and Tweeting with Dr. Patton” will be from 5 to 7 p.m. in the Rast Room of the Bryant Conference Center at UA. The event is free and open to the public and will have refreshments. Those interested must RSVP here. For additional information, please contact Liz Lary at 205/348-5384 or

“Within social work’s thesis, there are a lot of policies that say we should not be connected with clients because of privacy issues,” said Patton, who also will deliver the keynote for a colloquium Friday. “There’s a misunderstanding in the role social media plays in the lives of young people. It’s truly an e-society, a community setting. I think we’re slow to understand young people are communicating a host of life experiences online – stress, who they want to be and why – that pertain to social workers.”

Patton said the discussion Thursday will include safe and unsafe practices across social media platforms, good and problematic uses of social media and analyses of social media posts, some of which will be written by youth who attend the event.

“There have been traditional methods of outreach using people in communities to discourage violence in real time, but it hasn’t caught up to the rise of social media,” Patton said. “We’ve considered social media as a risk factor, but I use it as a tool for intervening and preventing.”

Patton uses qualitative and computational methods, including interview-based studies and collaborative projects with computer scientists. He’s conducting a mixed method study using qualitative interviews with Chicago youth to develop algorithms to detect “ Internet Banging” and other forms of trauma on social media. He’s also using social media data from Chicago neighborhoods to examine how street life moves online.

“One thing that’s important – these are youth – they’ve always made poor decisions, like driving recklessly or smoking,” Patton said. “We live in a viral culture where popularity is important, particularly for social media, in order to get or maintain attention. When you overlay that with a high-risk community and codes of the street that dictate how you should behave when confronted with disrespect, If you don’t do it online, there are consequences offline.”

Patton will also deliver “Innovating Gang Violence Prevention with Qualitative Analysis and National Language Processing” at 11:30 a.m., Friday, Feb. 17, in the Rast Room of the Bryant Conference Center. Following the colloquium at 1 p.m., students, faculty and staff are invited to join Patton for dessert and coffee in the Rast Room.

The UA School of Social Work commemorates African American Heritage Month by holding a series of events in honor of Dr. Ethel H. Hall, the first African American woman to serve on the Alabama Board of Education and to graduate from the school’s Ph.D. program. Hall died in November 2011. Through these events, the school seeks to educate, inform and inspire students, faculty and staff. The month’s signature event is a colloquium featuring a nationally recognized speaker.


David Miller, UA Media Relations, 205/348-0825,


Dr. Desmond Patton, assistant professor, School of Social Work, Columbia University,