Company 'Social Sentinel' used to track online dangers

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The company "Social Sentinel" can help track online posts from people who write they want to do harm to others.

Gary Margolis is the company's founder. He has about 20 years of law enforcement experience and says his company is making the difference.

"We built Social Sentinel to be that scanner," Margolis said. "To be that tool to look through a billion social media posts plus every day, looking for signals of harm."

Social Sentinel uses a software program that can examine language written on posts and determine something important - if those words came to life, they would be dangerous?

"We are looking for more than keywords and hashtags," Margolis said. "We are actually looking for how word combinations come together. How intent is projected."

Social Sentinel protects several million students in about 25 states. The founder says his office has been busy answering calls from potential clients. Florida's fatal shooting has many interested in Social Sentinel's services. Police say the alleged shooter wrote threatening messages on social media.

"It's highly likely that our system would have identified that kind of threatening language being shared," Margolis said.

Once a post has been identified as troubling, the program can determine if that post came from one of the company's clients, which include school districts and corporations. Once that happens, the school district or corporation will be notified by text, email, or a PDF file. The client then determines what to do with the information.

"We have helped our clients avert potential harm," Margolis said.

Margolis says the cost of the service amounts to a cup of coffee per student. Many school districts don't have the manpower or the resources to have somebody sit at a desk to monitor students' social media moves.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board Chair Mary McCray and Superintendent Dr. Clayton Wilcox say Social Sentinel may be something the school district needs to invest in.

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