City’s New Program Reads its Citizens’ Facebook, Twitter and Instagram Posts

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What you post on social media is pretty-much fair game. That’s the point of some platforms. Yet many are concerned about an emerging trend in major metropolitan areas in the United States. Cities are using AI to scan the social media posts of their citizenry. The cities are hoping to be able to keep up with how their residents are feeling.

West Sacramento, California is leading the way. The plan, which many feel is surprisingly Orwellian, has angered some of those who are going to be monitored.

“ZenCity trawls through all publicly available posts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to find out what people are talking about and whether the opinion they are expressing is positive or negative,” Daily Mail writes.

“City leaders insist the pilot scheme allows them to quickly respond to issues citizens are complaining about online, but privacy campaigners will worry about the mass harvesting of data following Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal.”

The program, which has the full support of Mayor Christopher Cabaldon, will cost $12,000.

“It allows us to hear the whole community and not just the loudest voices that come to our chambers for a public hearing,” Mayor Cabaldon told reporters.

ZenCity, a company based in Tel Aviv, picked up on a situation in the city back in March. There was a “shooting scare” at a school, and the social media buzz focused on the communication difficulties after the incident.

While this news would be obvious to anyone after the fact, ZenCity promises to provide real-time interpretation of incoming messages. No waiting. The goal then becomes the immediacy of the civic response.

ZenCity may begin picking up on the fact that people aren’t happy about having their social meida messages policed. Digital rights advocate Peter Eckersley, speaking on behalf of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, is one of those raising red flags.

“Once you get into policing there are many more potential concerns around the use of artificial intelligence,” he said.

That won’t be enough, though, to keep West Sacramento away from the program. They’re pleased with the results so far.

And as Daily Mail notes, they may be the first US city to use the program, but the company is working with cites around the world, including Paris.