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Journal of Digital Forensics,

Security and Law

Volume 11 | Number 3 Article 7


Toward Online Linguistic Surveillance of

Threatening Messages
Brian H. Spitzberg
San Diego State University, California, USA.

Jean Mark Gawron

San Diego State University, California, USA.

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Spitzberg, Brian H. and Gawron, Jean Mark (2016) "Toward Online Linguistic Surveillance of Threatening Messages," Journal of
Digital Forensics, Security and Law: Vol. 11 : No. 3 , Article 7.
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Toward Online
O Lingu
uistic Surveiillance of Th
hreatening M
Messages JDFSL V11N3


Brian H. Spitzzberg
San Diiego State U niversity

an Mark Gaw wron
San Diiego State U niversity

Threats are commun nicative actss, but it is not
n always obvious whaat they com mmunicate or when
they commmunicate im mminent cred dible and serrious risk. T
This paper prroposes a ressearch- and theory-
based sett of over 20 potential liinguistic risk k indicators that may d discriminate credible fromm non-
credible threats
t hin online threat message corpora. T
with Two prongs are proposed d: (1) Using expert
and layperson rating gs to validatte subjectivee scales in reelation to an
nnotated knoown risk meessages,
and (2) Using th he resulting annotated d corpora for automaated machine learningg with
computattional linguistic analysess to classify non-threats,, false threatts, and crediible threats. Rating
scales are proposed, existing threat corpora a are identiffied, and soome prospecttive computtational
linguisticc procedurees are iden ntified. Imp plications foor ongoing threat surrveillance aand its
applicatio ons are explored.
Keyworrds: risk asseessment, com
mputational linguistics, ccyber-harasssment, threaats

NING rape, hate speeech, slurs, micro-aggreessions,
psychhological abuse, bullyinng, stalking, cyber-
ATION harasssment, troolling, bom mbings and mass
Since 911 1, the threa
at of terrorissm has becoome shoottings. As d diverse as this landsccape of
ubiquitouusly ingrained in th he minds of interppersonal and
d institution
nal terrorism
m is, at
governmeents and th he publics they represent least one form of speech act is coommon,
and seek to protect. Between a third and half h althoough neither unique nor necessary, tto all of
of the U.S. population is worried w aboout thesee forms oof aggressioon: the aact of
themselves or a family member m beeing threaatening commmunication.
victimizeed by terroriism Inn this analyysis, the foocus is on m
( 909/terrorismm- threaats, as opp posed to poosing a thrreat or
united-states.aspx). At
A the samee time, societties creat ing a sense of threat. FFor example, many
have become
b inccreasingly sensitized to indivviduals and groups may y pose a threat to
interpersonal acts ofo terrorism, ranging frrom cyberr-security, b
but may noot communiicate a
intimate partner vio olence, sexuaal coercion and
a threaat indicatinng intent to enact harm

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(Fachkha et al., 2012). Other research Court left the seriousness of threats to be
examines how to create a sense of threat or determined by their context and the subjective
fear in others (Peters, Ruiter, & Kok, 2013; intent of the speaker.
Peters, Ruiter & Kok, 2014). Further, although
Threat is often associated with fear, dread,
a variety of forms and contexts of threats are
terror, anxiety, and apprehension (Shen &
reviewed, the focus of this analysis will be on
Dillard, 2014), and the sense of threat is no
interpersonal threatsthreats expressed by
doubt an evolved sensitivity with adaptive
one person to another person. Finally, the
value and neural substrates (Pichon, de Gelder
interest of this analysis is more on identifying
& Grzes, 2009). When uttered or expressed,
linguistic threats themselves, rather than
however, threats are a prima facie indicator of
identifying the threatener (see: Abbasi &
risk, although not everything perceived as a
Chen, 2008; Hadjidj et al., 2009), even though
threat or as threatening is predicated on an
each of the two approaches may have much to
intentional threat message (Rick, Mania,
offer the other. The purpose of this analysis is
Gaertner, McDonald, & Lamoreaux, 2010;
to examine the nature of expressed threats,
Smith & Morra, 1994; Spitzberg, in press;
identify some of their linguistic features
Surface, 2011). Threats reveal a complex
potentially amenable to machine learning, and
relationship to actual harm. From a forensic
to provide a rating scale that could assist in
perspective, threats are generally understood
validating training sets of threats for such
as a risk indicator of potentially violent,
machine learning and classification. To the
criminal or terrorist behavior (Meloy,
extent that a reasonably accurate threat
Hoffmann, Guldimann, & James, 2012). As
surveillance system could be developed, it
Meloy (2000) pessimistically summarizes:
could significantly enhance the identification,
Most individuals do not act on their threats.
assessment, and potential interventions
Threats may increase, decrease, or have no
associated with existing case-based threat
relationship to subsequent violence (p. 166).
management situations.
The degree to which threats are systematically
There are laws proscribing communicated predictive of violence varies from context to
threats as a particular form of unprotected context. For example, threats are more
speech (e.g., 18 U.S.C. 875(c)). The Supreme associated with violence in workplace, school,
Court, however, when assessing the legality and intimate relationships than in public figure
and seriousness of threats, tends toward an contexts (Jenkins, 2009). Even among attacks
abundance of caution in regulating such on college campuses, threats were apparent in
speech. In recent cases on threats in electronic only 13% of attacks (U.S. Secret Service,
media (e.g., Watts v. United States, and Elonis 2010).
vs. United States), the court has ruled that
Other research, however, demonstrates
there is an objective intent standard burden of
some value of threats as predictors of
proofthe prosecution has an expectation to
subsequent violence. Threats have been
demonstrate a mens rea requirement that the
identified as risk indicators of potentially
communicator intended the message as a
violent, criminal or terrorist behavior (Meloy,
threat, and that it would be understood by the
et al., 2012), stalking (Churcher & Nesca,
target as a threat (Maras, 2015). Yet, the
2013; Spitzberg & Cupach, 2014), and femicide
Court has not specified the standard for
(Campbell et al., 2003; Glass, Laughon, Rutto,
determining what communication features
Bevacqua & Campbell, 2008). Studies have
constitute a true threat. In so doing, the
been conducted on threats against stalking

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O Lingu
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Messages JDFSL V11N3

victims (Spitzberg
( & Cupach, 2014),
2 intimmate smalll minority of such bystanderss ever
partners (Brewster, 2000; Cam mpbell, et al., recoggnize the seriousness of such signals
2003; Glass, Laugh hon, Rutto, Bevacqua & (Polluuck et al., 22008; McCan nn, 2001, 20002). To
Campbelll, 2008; Palarea,
P ona, Lane, &
Zo the eextent that such disquiieting or siggnaling
Langhinrrichsen-Rohling, 19999), cliniciaans informmation is av vailable in on
nline contex
xts such
(Brown, Dubin, Lion n, & Garry,, 1996), nurrses as soccial media, ssurveillance of such meddia may
(Maier, 1996),
1 sociall workers (NNewhill, 200 02), proviide invaluab ble informattion as a tool for
psychoth herapists (B Bernstein, 1981),
1 cliniical recoggnizing and d potentiallly avoidingg such
staff (Dooren, Miller, & Maier, 1993; Hillbrand, threaats from beccoming violeent (Scaloraa, 2014;
2001; Sa andberg, McNiel,
M & Binder,
B 19998), Vudh hiwat, 2002). Such possibilities of aadvance
lawyers (Brown & MacAlister, 200 06), threaat assessmen nt has generrated an ex xtensive
organizattions (Bullinng & Scalora a, 2008; Moo ore, schol arly and p practioner iinterest in threat
Mundie, Collins, 2013; Mund die, Moore, & surveeillance and prediction ((e.g., Borum m, Fein,
McIntire, 2012; Seger, 199 93), studeents Vosseekuil, & B Berglund, 19999; Davis, 2001;
(Nekvasill & Cornell,, 2012), scho ools (Bond & Daviss, Stewart & Siota, 22001; Dunn,, 2008;
Scheithau uer, 2014; Borum,
B Cornnell, Modzeleeski Fein, Vossekuil, Pollack & B Borum, 20000, 2002;
& Jimersson, 2010; Cornell,
C 201
10; Drysdalee & Glasggow & Sch houten, 2014; Jackson,, 2012;
Modzelesski, 2010; Lin ndberg, Oksanen, Sailas, & Meloyy, Hoffman nn, Roshd di, Glaz-Occik, &
Kaltiala-Heino, 20 012; Meloy y, Hoffmann, Guld imann, 22014; Meeloy, Hofffmann,
Roshdi, & Guldima ann, 2014; Trump, 20 015; Guld imann, & JJames, 2012; Simons & Cook,
Sokolow, Lewis, Scchuster, Swiinton, & Van V 2014;; Storey, G Givas, Reevees, & Hart,, 2011;
Brunt, 2015),
2 brities (Dieetz, Matthews,
celeb Whitte & Cawood d, 1998).
Van Du uyne & Martell,
M 19911b; Twemlo ow,
Fonagy, Sacco, & Vernberg,
V 20008; U.S. Seccret TH
Service, 2002),
2 judgees and politiccians (Dietz,, et CHARRACTEERISTIC
al., 1991a; Every-Palmer, Ba arry-Walsh & OF
Path, 2015; Fein & Vosssekuil, 19 999;
Schoenem man-Morris et al., 2007), 2 royaalty Threaats are a trope recogn nized since ancient
(James ete al., 2008; James et al., 2009a; Jam mes timess, which rreflects a basic speecch act
et al., 20
009b; James et al., 2010; van der Meeer, (percclusio), altthough th hreats aree not
Bootsma & Meloy, 2012), and d a variety of necesssarily, or even ttypically, verbal
public figgures (Baummgartner, Scalora & Pla ank, (Salgguerio, 2010,, p. 215). For the purp poses of
2001; Kropp, Hart & Lyon, 2008 8; Meloy, 20 011; this pproject, andd in accord with the k kinds of
Meloy ett al., 2004; Schoeneman n et al., 20011; availaable data foor analysis, oonly discursiive and
Sinclair, 2009). transscribable ttexts will be conssidered.
Althoough many y threats aare nonverbal in
ain types of
Certa o threats, such s as deaath
naturre (e.g., bu urning a crross on som meones
threats (Barnes, Gordon, & Hudson, H 20
lawn;; sending an n ominous ggift or imagee, such
MacDona ald, 1968; Morewitz,
M 20010) and bomb
as a picture oof an ex-girrlfriend witth rifle
threats (Mazur, 1983 3; Hkknen n, 2006; Zaittsu,
crosshhairs draw wn on herr face; meenacing
2010) havve particularr cultural, professional
p and
approoach behavior, Crownerr, Peric, Steepcic &
scholarly currency. Although
A scchool attack
Lee, 2005), thee contingen ncy and prreferred
rarely diirectly threa
aten the school, the vast v
outcoome featuress of threats seem likely y to be
majority of cases reveal info ormation th hat
expreessed linguisstically. Furtthermore, wwith the
disquiets others, usually peers, although
a a very
ubiquuity and an nonymizing ccapabilities of new

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media tecchnologies, the communication of o negativvely valencees the implied effects oof the
threats haas become more efficieent, and th he threat, that the isssuer intend ds and is ab ble to
potential for
f social sttatus implications vastlly enact tthe effect thhrough some course of acction,
expanded due to the poteential masss- and thaat the issuerr will preven
nt the effect upon
communica ation featurres of such media (e.g g., recipiennt compliance; Gill & B Ben-Shahar, 2005;
threats of revealing seexting imagees to broadeer Martn nez-Cabeza, 2009). Thaat is, threats are
audiences; Hadnagy & Fincher, 2015). typicallly directivee rather tthan comm missive
actsaacts that seeek to influ uence a reciipient
he Structu
ure and Themes
T of
rather than necesssarily commiit the issuerr to a
T particuular course of action (Salgueiro, 22010).
From a communiccation or pragmaticcs Yet, tthreat asseessment exp perts comm monly
perspectivee, threats, even when nonverballly envisioon threats and violencce as motiv vated
a distinct and varied speech actts
enacted, are primar ily by eitheer instrumen ntal or expreessive
(see: Bellerr, Bender, & Song, 2009 9; Milburn & motive s (e.g., Ham mel, Desmarais, & Niccholls,
Watman, 1981; Murdock, Bradacc, & Bowerss, 2007; M McEllistrem, 2004; Melloy, 2002; T Tweed
1984; OHa air, Bernardd, & Roper, 2011). Fromm & Duttton, 1998), ssuggesting tthat some th hreats
a speakerr-oriented as a well as functiona al serve liittle tangiblee instrumental function. The
perspectivee, a verba al threat constitutes
c a issuer also may iintend indirrect rather than
linguistic strategy
s tha
at is used too manipulatte direct control oveer the threaat outcomes. For
or even co oerce the adddressee into
o (not) doin
ng examplle, a polittical candiidate suggeesting
something that is an undesirable outcome fo or secondd amendmen nt options for dealing with
him/her (Limberg, 2009, p. 1378). an opp ponent is ree-directing the source oof the
impliedd threat. Furthermorre, despite the
Threats have been studied from m a linguistiic
explicitt connectionn between thhe speech actt, and
and speech h act philo
osophy persp pective (e.g
the acctual action ns implied, most Weestern
Beller, Bennder, & Sonng, 2009; Beeller, Benderr,
jurispruudence reecognizes a fundam
& Kuhnm mnch, 2005; Fraser, 19 975; Kissinee,
distincttion betweeen act and speech, making
2008; Lpeez-Rousseau, Diesendrucck & Benozio o,
threatss a problem matic legal category of ccrime
2011). In Searles (1975) categ gorization ofo
(Bar-GGill & Ben-Sh hahar, 2005; Feinstein, 1996;
speech accts, threatts and promises arre
Martn nez-Cabeza, 2009), especcially in soccieties
considered commissives, which are illocutionarry
with frreedom of sp peech rights.
acts intennded to co ommit the issuer to a
particular course of action. Threatts may seek a Givven these characteriistics, alth hough
purely insttrumental go mpliance with
oal (e.g., com layperssons may see many d diverse events or
a particulaar request or demand), or they ma ay situatioons as threeatening, too make issuue or
simply seek to terrorizze and evok ke fear in th
he enact a threat impplies a speechh act that caan be
service of a personal gratificationn and arousa al charactterized by several exp plicit or immplicit
motive. featurees:

Typicaally, scholarrs concur that threatts 1. Intentionaliity: The isssuer intendds to

involve (a)) relevance and implica ations for thhe achieve on ne or moree conscious and
recipient(s)), (b) whichh are negativvely valenceed identifiable outcomes, thereby making
by the reccipient(s), an nd (c) evalu
uated by thhe threats a subset of p persuasive sppeech
recipient in regard to the preeparatory or o acts intended as forms of influence;;
credibility conditions (i.e., thatt the issueer
knows the recipieent undersstands an

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2. Negative valence: The act implies some Sinaceur, van Kleef, Neale, Adam, & Haag,
harm(s) or undesirable consequence(s) 2011; Sinaceur & Neal, 2005). For example,
to the target(s); warnings say that there is a risk of a bad event
3. Implicit or explicit issuer control: The occurring that is not under the control of the
issuer is actually in control of, and/or speaker (as in a friend or family member
attempts to communicate self-efficacy telling their daughter you are headed for
and control over, the means of the trouble or anyone who dresses like that is
occurrence of the harm(s); asking for it). In contrast, a threat is a
4. Issuers Preferred Outcome: The issuer statement of a punishment under the control of
suggests or specifies a demand or course the threatener that is implicitly or explicitly
of action on the part of the target that contingent upon the noncompliance of the
may avert the harm; target with the threateners demands (if you
5. Contingency: The issuer suggests or dont do what I ask, I will make you regret
specifies that the probability or severity it).
of the harm is probabilistically related
Another potential asymmetry is between
to the targets behavior. That is, the
promises and threats. Promises tend to
target may avert the harm by
obligate behavior upon compliance based on
complying with or fulfilling the issuers
positively-valenced outcomes, whereas threats
preferred outcome;
relinquish the issuer from obligation upon
6. Credibility and willingness: The issuers
compliance based on negatively-valenced
efficacy (i.e., capability of enacting or
outcomes, even though in essence, a threat is
enabling the harm) and the likelihood
always accompanied by a promise and vice
or probability of instantiating the harm
versa, thereby making obligation as
are either implied or specified as part of
consubstantial to threats as to promises
the message;
(Salgueiro, 2010, p. 224; see also Castelfranchi
7. Subjunctive Mood: Threats tend to be
& Guerini, 2007). Promises also tend to imply
directed toward future possibilities,
an acquiescence of the receiver, who can
even though they often refer to past
deactivate the promise, whereas threats are
perceived wrongs or transgressions, and
more unilaterally contracted in effect or
threats may presage future
implication (Salgueiro, 2010). Another common
contingencies through present action
but not necessary asymmetry is that it is
(e.g., vandalism in the present may be
common in actual speech for speakers to
a message of what may happen in the
employ the name of the speech act in their
future if demands are not met).
speech (e.g., I promise you that, Im
From this pragmatic approach, threats are warning you, My advice is to, etc.),
typically conceptualized as a form of whereas issuers rarely use the word threat in
conditional speech intended to influence or their spoken or written threats, although
gain compliance from a target recipient or targets may tend to apply the label to the act
agent, even when the proximal motive may be or use it as a credibility marker (e.g., This is
expressive in nature. Such inquiries have often no idle threat Im making). Furthermore,
focused on differentiating threats from recipients may often label the speech act in
predictions (Kissine, 2008), promises, advice, context (e.g., Are you threatening me?).
warnings (e.g., Lpez-Rousseau et al., 2011;
There may be typological differences across
Wood & Quinn, 2003), and anger (Frick, 1986;
certain contexts of threats. For example,

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research isi progressiing in ideentifying th he commu unicate emootionally bu ut neverr act

linguistic profile of potential
p th
hreat-relevannt violent ly (Calhou un & Westoon, 2009, p p. 28;
crimes, in ncluding cy yber-bullying (Dinakarr, Calhou un & Westoon, 2008), a typology later
Recichart Lieberma an, 2011; Hatakeyama a, refined
d into scream mers, shiellders, shockers,
Masui, Ptaszynski
P & Yamam moto, 2016 6; schemmer, and signalers (W Warren, Mulllen &
Komuda, Ptaszynski,
P Rzepka & Araki, 2016 6; McEwaan, 20144). Another apprroach
Latham, Crockett
C & Bandar,
B 20100; Lieberman n, disting uished reaal threats from blluffs,
Dinakar & Jones, 201 11; Nandhin ni & Sheeba a, latent threats aand nonthreats (Chun ng &
2015; Nittta et al., 2013; Ptazy ynski et all., Penneb baker, 20011). OToole (2004)
2010;Ptaszzynski, Masui, Kimura, Rzepka & disting uished direcct threats, indirect thrreats,
Araki, 2015a; Pstaszzynski, Massui, Kimura a, veiled threats, and d conditionaal threats. Turner
Rzepka, & Araki, 2015 5b; Raisi & Huang, 2016 6; and Gelles (2003) iddentify tthreat
Van Royen n, Poels, Da aelemans & Vandebosch h, commu unication chaaracteristics of (a) orgaanized
2015; Xu, Jun, Zhu, & Bellmore, 2012), rap pe versus disorganized d, (b) fixatiion, (c) focuus on
(Woodham ms & Grant,, 2006), suiccidality (e.g g., self as wronged an nd on source of responsib bility,
Colombo, Burnap,
B Hoddorog & Sco ourfield, 20166; and (d) action n imperatiive, and time
Desmet & Hoste, 2012, 2013; Egno oto & Griffin
n, imperaative.
2016; Handelman & Lester,
L 20077) in Twitteer
Thee traditionaal psychologgical approacch to
domains (O ODea, Larseen, Batterha am, Calear, &
threateening behavior seeks too understand d the
Christensenn, 2016; Sueeki, 2015), th
hreats againsst
threateener (e.g., Schoeneman n et al., 2011;
public figuures (e.g., Hoffmann,
H 2009;
2 Meloy y,
Mullen & O
Scaloraa et al., 20022; Warren, M Ogloff,
Mohandie, & Green, 2008;
2 Meloy,, Sheridan, &
2011; WWarren, Oglloff & Mulleen, 2013; Waarren,
Hoffman, 2008),
2 school shooter threats (Meloy y,
Mullenn, Thomas, O Ogloff & Buurgess, 2008), and
Hoffmann, Roshdi, & Guldimann,
G 2014; Bondd
often imputes mootives, psycchological sttates,
& Scheith hauer, 2014 4; Lindberg g, Oksanen n,
stages of preparration or actions tooward
Sailas, & Kaltiala--Heino, 20 012; Meloy y,
violencce to the speeaker based on the natuure of
Hoffman, Roshdi, & Guldim mann, 2014 4;
the thrreats.
Sulkowski, 2010; Tion ngco, 2015; Van Bruntt,
2015), or terrorist
t threeats (Cohenn et al., 20144; Moore recently y, research has begun n to
Weinstein et al., 20 009). Threa ats in succh investiggate the linguistic, pragmatic and
contexts may
m be substantially different
d from
m contexttual feaatures off threatening
more relatiional or interpersonal thhreats. commu unications, aand the link ks between such
featurees and tthreat outcomes. Geeurts,
The Lang
guage of Threats
T Granhaag, Ask and d Vrij (2016)) found, con ntrary
Several typologies of threats and d threatenerrs to expeectations, thhat bluffing threateners used
have been n proposed d. Reminisccent of th he more how or im mplementation languagge in
instrumenttal/expressivve dichotom my, an earlly their threat m
messages tthan actualizer
y-based typ pology of threatenerrs threateeners. The FBI Behaavioral Analysis
derived froom a study y of over 3,000
3 threatts Unit, aamong otheer factors, sseeks to ideentify
against fed
deral officials differentia
ated hunterss mode of delivery, evidence of staging (i.e.,
and howleers (Calhou un, 1998, p. xix): hunterrs purpos eful manipu ulation of th he message, such
act in fuurtherance of o committiing intendeed as the use of the pronoun wee), motive, level
violence (Calhoun
( & Weston, 2009,2 p. 222) of veraacity (i.e., true intentt), resolutioon to
whereas hoowlers comm municate ina appropriatelyy, violencce (i.e., ju ustification, acceptance of
ominously, even threateninglly, or consequ uences, abiliity to carry out the thrreat),

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and imminence (Simons & Tunkel, 2014). contextualizing information is an empirical

Schoeneman-Morris et al. (2007) compared question.
email to letter threats to members of Congress
Assuming that threats can be reliably
and found that emails were more likely to
identified, the other major challenge is to
emphasize governmental issues, use obscenity,
distinguish threats in regard to their
and reveal disorganization in language, and
credibility. Spitzberg and Cupachs (2014)
less likely to evidence psychological disorders
summary of 16 studies of stalker threats
or problematic approach behavior. Schoeneman
identified a false positive rate of 60% and a
et al. (2011) also investigated communication
false negative rate of 18%, similar to estimates
features that characterized threateners who
by Meloy (1999, 2002) and Resnik (2007). In a
engaged in problematic approach behavior
study of open source lone actor terrorists,
toward political officials. They found that
Meloy and Gill (2016) found that only 22%
approacher communications revealed longer
engaged in pre-event warning behaviors that
handwritten correspondence, references to
were considered directly communicated
specific events, demands, noting personal
threats. Thus, many threats appear to have
stressors, violation of their rights, and
relatively little relation to the violence they
expressing intentions to approach. In contrast,
portend. The credibility, or seriousness, of
threatening language itself was unrelated to
threats may be highly contextual. The
actual approach.
prevailing wisdom is that judgments of threat
Threats no doubt present substantial message credibility is highly contextual and
challenges to standardized search and case-specific, requiring intensive evaluation of
identification criteria. Threats, like most all case materials. There may still be
language, are highly contextual. Consider, for significant practical value to more general
example, the following two exchanges between forms of threat message identification in large
hypothetical persons A and B: text or big data environments.
A: Im having a party at my place on Computational linguistics is a rapidly
Friday. Do you know where I live? advancing field that investigates ways of
parsing elements of language, usually written
B: I know where you live. Ill see you soon.
text, to identify underlying dimensions and
elements (e.g., Joacchims, 1998; Salton &
A: You are frightening me. Leave me alone. Buckley, 1988). Progress is being accomplished
If I see you again Ill call the police, I in discourse analysis in the discrimination of
swear! arguments (e.g., Bex, Atkinson & Bench-
Capon, 2014; Faulkner, 2015), narratives
B: I know where you live. Ill see you soon. (Kypridemou & Michael, 2014), beliefs,
The content of Bs speaking turn is motives, justifications (Prentice, Rayson, &
identical in both interchanges, but clearly Taylor, 2012), emotions (Oster, 2010;
takes on a more threatening implication in the Westbury, Keith, Briemeister, Hofmann, &
second exchange. Yet, by a priori notions of Jacovs, 2015), conflict (e.g., Kaya, Ozkaptan,
threat, there is little in the explicit or surface Salah & Gurgen, 2015), sarcasm (e.g., Kovaz,
content of Bs statement that seems Kreuz, & Riordan, 2013), impoliteness (Marco,
particularly sinister. Whether or not threat 2008), group formation and membership (Tsou
content can be identified independent of such et al., 2014), and intention (e.g., Feng, 2015).

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Only a few computational linguistics typical of specific threat grammar (e.g., Now
studies have been applied to threatening youre dead! and For this and other
communications (Carter, 2010, Gales, 2010, injustices, you will pay the ultimate price!).
2011, 2015; Glukhov & Martynova, 2015;
Glasgow and Schouten (2014) examined a
Smith, 2006, 2008; Tiongco, 2015; Watt, Kelly
corpus of 60 documents sent to judges that
& Llamas, 2013), although several scholars
raised safety concerns. Although only 3 of the
have commented on the potential value of such
documents made clear threats of violence (p.
analyses on threat messages (e.g., Cohen,
41), 5 had vague threats of violence, and 16
Johansson, Kaati, & Mork, 2014; Leonard,
threatened legal action, and another 8
2005/2006; Sanfilippo, 2010). Taylor et al.
threatened reputational attacks. Glasgow and
(2013) investigated the emails of insider
Schouten applied a content and word software
threats in a game simulation, and found that
(LIWC; Chung & Pennebaker, 2011;
language became more self-focused, more
Pennebaker, Francis, & Booth, 2001;
negative in affective tone, and demonstrated that seeks evidence of
more cognitive processing load compared to
emotional states of writers, and a topic model
normal coworker participants. Glukhov and
that statistically aggregates topical themes
Martynova (2015) selected a corpus of 525
(e.g., see Weinstein, Frazier, & Bongar, 2009).
threats spoken in interpersonal contexts in
The authors found little ability to differentiate
fictional texts. They content-analyzed these
serious from non-serious threats, although the
threats for several features, including the
corpus was recognized as under-powered.
nature of the fear appeal implied by the threat.
Sanfilippo, McGrath and Bell (2014) report a
They concluded that although threats to
computer modeling approach using frame
health or physical security were more
analysis (Goffman, 1974), in which content
represented in the corpus, threats to social
themes and features are processed from
identity were more efficient in achieving
terrorist messages, including: (a) moral
concessions for the fictional characters.
disengagement, (b) message delivery, (c) seek
Carter (2010) extracted corpora of terrorist resonance, (d) violence and contention, (e) call
and non-terrorist threats from public websites. to arms, (f) social isolation, and (g) violation
The terrorist corpus consisted of 4,059 words, of sacred values (see also, Sanfilippo, 2010;
and the non-terrorist corpus consisted of 2,172 Sanfilippo, McGrath & Whitney, 2011).
words. These two corpora were each
An ambitious project by Gales (2010a,
subdivided into those sentences containing
2010b, 2011, 2015) obtained a corpus
clear threatening utterances. Simple word
consisting of 470 threat letters from the
count metrics were assessed on pronoun usage
Academy Group, a consulting behavioral
and sentence structure (negative command,
analysis organization employing former FBI
command, command-then statements, if-then
Special Agents. The project sought to analyze
statements, questions, and declarative
threats through the lens of speaker stance and
statements). The results are entirely
appraisal. Stance represents the ways in which
descriptive, but showed that the second-person
speakers and writers linguistically demonstrate
nominative pronoun you (and lemmatized to
their commitment to or attitudes about a
include youll and youre) were most
person or proposition (Gales, 2011, p. 27).
common. Grammatically, the subjective I and
Appraisal involves linguistic markers of
the objective you were the most common uses
speaker attitude (how feelings are mapped
of pronouns. Declarative statements were most
within texts, p. 30), engagement (how writers

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dialogically position themselves with respect romance, used polite threatening tone, and
to their audience or to propositions referenced words associated with prejudices regarding
within the text, p. 30), and graduation (to religion. Threat document features also
demonstrate greater or lesser degrees of predicted action taken, including typed or
positive or negative feelings, p. 30). From this handwritten notes (vs. computer printed) and
perspective, she theorized that stances relating inappropriate capitalization, and using a true
to the emotions of the writer are outlined return address. She has more recently begun to
through the systems of attitude, while stances incorporate various linguistic metrics into a
relating to the writers level of commitment or software package for assessing seriousness of
investment are highlighted through the system threats that demonstrates good discriminatory
of engagement (pp. 30-31). Her case studies power with this same threat corpus (Smith,
indicated, contrary to common predictions, Woyach & OToole, 2014). This computational
that threatener language demonstrated linguistic system is most immediately
ambivalent attitudes (i.e., disfavor of both the exemplary to the current project. It employs
targets and selfs actions) and ambivalent an algorithm of seven weighted factors
graduation (i.e., through heteroglossic (, some of which can be
utterances such as may). In a separate extracted automatically from the language of a
analysis of 397 threats (128,774 total words) threat text: prior contacts, paranoid
from the same source, stance was used to expressions, polite tone, mentions of love
differentiate threats in stalking cases, marriageor romance, specifying the target,
harassment cases, and defamation cases. specifying the harm for the victim, and
Stalking threats were particularly characterized conceptually complex language). The language
by prediction modals of will, would, shall, be complexity variable is considered an indicator
going to, a strong co-occurrence of these of planning capacity, which is interpreted as a
predictions modals and pronouns (e.g., I/we, r proxy for intent. These seven factors
= .88), trigrams (i.e., I will be and I will have demonstrated significant discrimination of
indicating volition and possessiveness), verb- threat-to-problematic action or seriousness in a
controlled that-complement clauses indicating data set of 89 FBI threat cases. The threat
certainty (e.g., you know that) and intention triage system continues to add closed cases to
(e.g., want, need, like). Suggestive of the role refine the algorithm and accuracy of the
of the credibility pragmatic of threats, Gales system.
(2015) found that verbs of certainty, which
Also, exemplary of this projects objectives,
are linked to the epistemic function of
research by Tiongco (2015) sought to develop
language, are considerably more frequent in all
and validate a more holistic rating scale. The
categories of threats, in general (p. 189).
Communicated Threat Analysis Scale (CTAS)
Smith (2008) examined a corpus of 96 FBI was intended as a holistic rating scale to assess
threatening communication cases, classified as the seriousness of a threat. CTAS seeks to
(1) no action by the threatener, (2) stalking or assess five characteristics associated with
approaching, or (3) harmful action. She found threats: organization versus disorganization,
several language content variables related fixation, time imperative, action imperative,
significantly to action taken, including and focus. Two exemplary closed-case threats
threatening to reveal detrimental information, were used as stimuli, one credible and one not
threatening to stalk, using persuasion, credible. The CTAS was also compared to a
repeatedly mentioned love or marriage or known threat assessment instrument with

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similar guided holistic subjective format topic, entity or person (Meloy & OToole,
(WAVR-21; Meloy, White & Hart, 2013). The 2011). Some forensic approaches capitalize on
18-item Likert-type scale demonstrated establishing baseline distributions of a given
marginal to unacceptable reliability of communicator, and scan for significant pattern
subscales, although the scale and its subscales deviations or discrepancies (e.g., Abbasi &
could be argued to be indexes rather than Chen, 2008; Hadjidj, et al., 2009). Pennebaker
scales, thereby not requiring internal and Chung (2005) demonstrate that there may
consistency (Streiner, 2003). Construct validity be distinct patterns of affective tone before,
coefficients between the CTAS and the WAVR during, and following a crisis (e.g., a terrorist
were generally nonsignificant or modest in attack). Furthermore, several of these features
effect size, indicating little evidence of validity cannot be captured in single messages, but can
for the CTAS. There were also few differences only be validly understood in a broader
manifested between the credible and the context of a campaign or relationship in
noncredible threat, or between the expert and which a given message establishes its
lay raters. credibility in the context of a broader set of
message exchanges.
Van Brunt (2015) also proposed a holistic
rating scale of written messages. It is Threats are clearly complex communicative
comprised of five factors, each with multiple phenomena. In everyday speech, as a
sub-items: fixation and focus (specification of a commissive, threats are most characterized by
target), hierarchical thematic content their false positivesa failure to commit an
(narrative construction of the writer as a act that is promised (Spitzberg & Cupach,
superior status protagonist), action and time 2014). Such failure pragmatically places them
imperative (indication of progression toward more in the role of directiveinfluence
action through chronemic and spatial cues), attempts (i.e., directives). As such, a failure to
pre-attack planning (subtle or explicit cues commit an act is often taken as an ironic sign
related to plan details related to threatened of the effectiveness of the speech actthe
action), and injustice collecting (indications of targets compliance foregoes the need to enact
a scorecard of having been wronged). This the harm implied by the speech act. Even
system is an entirely qualitative rating system, though threats tend to demonstrate very high
although some of its sub-items could be rates of false positives, they may yet reveal
generated as template search ontologies or significant diagnostic and perhaps even
linguistic algorithms in big data contexts, such predictive information about prospective acts
as target name repetition, graphic language, of aggression. As Smith et al. (2014, p. 322)
weapons mentions, and violence (e.g., Purohit conclude: A growing body of literature shows
et al., 2016). Such rating scales may be that a significant minority of threateners do
particularly relevant to validating training sets approach or become violent subsequent to
of threats for machine learning and threateningResearch also indicates that the
classification, as well as heuristics for case way people use language can have value for
assessment. discerning their intent and future actions.
There are probably other relevant features
not yet identified (Leonard, 2005/2006). For
example, certain metrics would be calibration-
based, such as sudden pattern changes or
bursts of preoccupation with a particular

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R NG 8 . Knowledgge of tarrget: how much
informatioon and/or insight into the
PROAC CH: target/vicctim is man nifest in the threat
ARY (Smith, 22008)?
CALESS 9 . Complexiity of plan(s): how comp plicated
is the exp pressed threeat, and how w much
A prelimminary sketch of potential variab bles cognitive processing is displayed in the
that might differen ntiate the credibility or speech construction n (Smith, 2008;
seriousneess of threats follows. These
T are based Taylor et al., 2013)?
on familliarity with communica ation researrch, 100. Verbal/noonverbal fe featuresto what
stalking research, anda experieence with the extent d does the text incorrporate
Associatiion of Threat Assessment nonverball elements?
onals. Thesee particula ar items, and a 1 1. Self-focuss: are there shifts from other-
others yeet to be form
mulated, can n be translated or collecttive-based rreferences tto self-
into rating scales (see Appeendix 1), and a focused rreference (MMeloy, 2011; Taylor
treated as
a an index x of threat credibility and
a et al., 20113)?
seriousneess. The ressult would be a THR Reat 1 2. Us-Them/You-I dicchotomies: is the
Evaluatioon & Asssessment of Discou urse theme oof pitting self-versu us-other
(THREA AD) index: prominen nt (e.g., blam
me, attributiion; see
1. Feasibility:
F is
i the threeat fulfillment Carter, 20010; Gawron n et al., 20122)?
possible (e.g., threatenin ng to bring on 133. Referencee to relevantt others as ttargets:
he plague vs. spreading rumors)?
r are otherrs, such as mutual ch hildren,
2. Capability/ex
C xpertise: is there textual pets, fam mily, etc. included iin the
evvidence the threatener is i able to caarry threat?
ouut the threat (Gales, 201 11)? 144. Linguisticc divergencee: to what degree
3. Extremity/in
E tensity: what
w is the does the persons sp peech style diverge
seeverity of th
he consequen nces or scopee of from, raather than accommodaate to,
hose threaten ned? ingroup norms and d/or interloocutors
4. Evidence
E of prior perpettration effica acy turns aat talk or interm mediary
annd consisttencyis there t textual communiccations (Tay ylor et al., 20013)?
evvidence thatt the threateener has issu ued, 1 5. Sentimentt deterioratiion or escalaation: is
annd followed through with, prrior there an n increase in, or deggree of
reelevant threa ats? contamination of speeech with n negative
5. Self-expressed d agency/effficacy: does the affect, particularrly angerr-based
hreatener express conffidence and d a terminoloogy (Meloy, 22011; Taylorr et al.,
arrying out the
seense of self-eefficacy in ca 2013)?
hreat (G
Gales, 20110a, 2010b; 166. Goal-linkiing: is therre evidence in the
Schoeneman-M Morris et al.., 2007)? language of higher-orrder goal lin nking of
6. Conditional
C probability in the verb the targeet with victtim life objjectives
phrases and contingency y phrases: does
d and/or values, and/or iimplicit
teext shift in verb tenses and a proprietarriness or enntitlements ((Meloy,
coonditionalityy (Gales, 201 10a, 2010b)?? 2011; Sch hoeneman-M Morris et al., 2007;
7. Im
mmediacy/im mminence: what is the Spitzbergg & Cupach, 2014)?
tiime horizon n of the language and a 1 7. Identificaation/fixationn: to what extent
mplied harm m? do wordss or phrasess indicate fiixation,

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preoccupation, and perso onal identitty which iidentify psycchologically salient classses to
fusiion with a topic, entitty, or perso on which words belon ng, and com mpile word coounts
(Meeloy & OT Toole, 2011; Spitzberg & for theese classes. The classees may be both
Cup pach, 2014)?? semanttically defineed (for exammple, social wwords
18. Phiilosophical embeddedneess: are th he or fam ily words), and function nally defined
d (for
threats embeedded in a broadeer examplle, first persson pronoun ns). The sem mantic
ideoological manifesto
m (Schoeneman
( n- classes pertain too what is ssometimes ccalled
Moorris et al., 2007)? contentt analysis aand the funcctional classses to
19. Lasst resort termminology: to o what exten nt what i s sometimess called stylle analysis. Both
do words or phrases
p indicate that alla types of analysis have beeen effectiv ve in
opttions have been exha austed, tha at predictting a wide v variety of teextual propeerties.
ath would bee preferable to the statu us One off the most influential eexemplars off this
quoo, etc. (Melooy & OToolee, 2011)? style oof approach h is Linguisstic Inquiry y and
20. Cohherence/orga anization: is therre Word C Count (LIWWC; Pennebaaker et al., 22007).
textual eviden nce that th he threateneer Anotheer is Buccis Discoourse Attrribute
hass engaged in n planning, preparation n, Analyssis Program (Bucci & M Maskit, 2005). The
hass an overall vision of implementin
i ng equallyy influential approach oof Biber (19888) is
the threat? somewh hat more ab ng factor analysis
bstract; usin
21. Dellusional con ntent: is th here conten nt to commbine a largee variety of textual feattures,
ggesting psycchoses or la ack of menta al Biber succeeds in find
ding "linguistic
mpetence, especially referencees prints" for broad teext genres like
indicating persecutory beliiefs, paranoiid newspaaper stories aand romancee novels.
ideaation, and Axis I and II disorderrs
Han ncock et aal. (2010) outline an nother
(Taaylor et al., 2013)?
approaach they reefer to as Social Langguage
22. nality fantasiies: are theree end-game,
Processsing (SLP). SLP shares features with the
suiccide fantasiees or imagees, suggesteed
word-c ounting app proach and may be thoought
(Meeloy, 2011)?
of as b uilding on itt, while addiing aspects oof the
A prelliminary opeerationalizattion draft of
o machin ne learning paradigm. S SLP is a meethod
these dimeensions is diisplayed in Appendix A,A of classsifying textts accordingg to some ssocial
currently formatted as a set of semantiic construuct, for eexample, cllassifying tthreat
differentiall scales. messagges to predicct whether th hey will leadd to a
physicaal approach h of the victim by the
L threateener, or to violence agaainst the viictim.
LING CS SLP cconsists of three stagees: (1) lingguistic
PROACHH featuree identificattion, (2) liinguistic feeature
extracttion, and (3) statiistical classsifier
Chung and d Pennebakeer (2011) pro ovide a usefuul developpment. Thee first stagge requiress the
survey of computatio onal approa aches to th he identifiication of ggrammatical or psycholoogical
analysis off threat messsage texts. They
T identiffy featurees of language that migght be assocciated
several bro oad classes of approacch; (a) worrd with th he constructt in questionn. In the second,
pattern an nalysis, app
proaches su uch as LSA A featuree extraction stage, the discov vered
(Landauer & Dumais 1997) and topic t analysiis featurees are extracted from a sset of texts wwhose
(Steyvers & Griffiths, 2007) which h analyze thhe propertties with resspect to thee social consstruct
co-occurrennce patternss of words inn text classees in quesstion are kn nown. This set is know wn as
of interestt; and (b) word coun nt strategiess,

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the training set. In the third stage, the will be", verbs with that-complement clauses,
learning stage, texts in the training set are prediction modals such as "will", and
classified according to the social construct, by adverbials of stance expressing certainty,
optimizing weights for the features. This stage likelihood, attitude, and style (for example,
combines two processes, weight assignment "frankly", "kind of"), and verbs of intention.
and feature selection. In feature selection, All of Gales features are what are referred to
features may be eliminated to eliminate noise here as content features. Not all predictive text
or merged to account for feature interactions. features bear on the content of the text.
The difficult part of applying this Of the various text variables Smith (2006)
paradigm is stage one, finding useful and studies, the following showed some positive
extractable features. A resource like the LIWC correlation with subsequent violent action:
dictionary is the endpoint of a process like a threateners (1) giving their real return address,
stage one process, but the features in LIWC either partial or complete (2) using a
are only a starting point. Each application has typewriter, (3) using inappropriate
its own set of useful features, and some capitalization, and (4) handwriting the threat.
demonstrably useful features may involve Note that two of the three are non-content
linguistically complex actions such as textual features. Smith also used software that
describing financial problems, or announcing a conducted content analysis to identify
significant anniversary, which are SLP psychological states: Gottshalks (2000;
problems in their own right. An example of an Gottschalk & Bechtel, 2000) PCADS and
approach to stage one is the work of Miah et Herman's (2003) Profiler Plus.
al. (2014), which uses a sentence similarity
Schoeneman-Morris, Scalora, Chang,
measure to cluster words associated with
Zimmerman and Garner (2007) discussed
particular stages in child exploitation chats.
several text variables of considerable utility in
Once words with strong associations with a
predicting approach by the threatener using a
particular stage are found, a LIWC dictionary
corpus of threats on members of Congress.
is built, but with new features specific to child
They identified the following content features
exploitation chats.
in order of predictive power: discussion of
The threat message literature has identified personal themes, making a request for help,
a number of text features, of various levels of mention of entitlements owed the subject,
complexity, which might plausibly play a role mentions of matters of finance, discussion of
in a threat assessment classifier, either to injustice, discussion of government policy or
predict approach or violence. human rights, identifying oneself, mention of
stressors, appeals to patriotism, expression of
Gales (2010a) analyzes threat messages,
an intent to approach, mention of upcoming
trying to identify those that are most likely to
anniversary, and discussion of contact plans.
produce fear or anxiety in their recipients. A
Schoeneman et al. also identified some non-
corpus-based approach is used to focus on
content text features with predictive power,
what are known as appraisal features, linguistic
including all caps in messages and general
features that express or reveal the author's
disorganization of the text.
evaluative stance toward the subject. The
features examined have considerable Meloy (2011) identified a number of
computational potential, because they can be features found consistently to predict
extracted with relative ease. They include approach. Although focusing on non-text
specific trigrams such as "I will have" or "I features, Meloy does identify several features

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and communicative properties that might assessment features suggests a number of easily
possibly be detected automatically, including extractable text features may be useful, but it
request for help, entitled reciprocity (the claim also suggests that more abstract features may
that something is owed the subject), and help, and abstract features like grandiosity
grandiosity (imagined importance, or the wish pose classification problems of their own.
to achieve importance). The first two coincide
Such approaches are distinct from forensic
with features discussed by Schoeneman et al.
efforts to identify threateners (e.g., Abbasi &
(2007). Grandiosity and narcissism open a new
Chen, 2008; Jadjidj et al., 2009). The contrast,
text domain that may be important.
however, is informative of potential
Recognizing abstract features of text like connections between the approaches. The term
grandiosity or narcissism may fall between stylometric analysis (SA) is generally used for
personality classification and recognizing text classification focusing on identifying some
psychological state. The literature on property of the author of a text, such as level
psychological content analysis has addressed of linguistic competence, gender, psychological
both classes of problems. In 2005, a pioneering profile, or just the author's identity. SA has
work by Argamon et al. (2005/2006) classified played a role in Psychology, Language
neuroticism and extraversion using linguistic Pedagogy, Forensic Analysis, and Literary
features such as function words, deictics, Studies. It has used a variety of text features
appraisal expressions, and modal verbs. One (e.g., lexical, ngram, syntactic, and
year later, Oberlander and Nowson (2006) orthographic). Stylometric features may be
classified extraversion, stability, agreeableness, extracted and clustered for a collection of texts
and conscientiousness of blog authors using n- to create "writeprints" for anonymous authors
gram features. Mairesse et al. (2007) reported a (e.g., Iqbal et el., 2010) or for problems of
long list of correlations between the Big Five author identification or authentication. These
personality traits (Norman 1963) and LIWC approaches may be fruitfully combined with
Features (Pennebaker, Francis, & Booth 2001). machine learning methods (Koppel, Schler &
Celli and Rossi (2012) used a very simple list Argamon, 2009), such as support vector
of features to try to sort Twitter users into machines (SVMs; Diederich 2003; De Vel 2001;
three classes (secure, neurotic, and balanced) Li et al. 2006), neural networks (Merriam
using profile and timeline information. They 1995; Tweedie, Singh & Holmes, 1996; Zheng,
successfully applied several the text features Li, Huang & Chen, 2006), and decision trees
from Mairesse et al.s (2007) data to their (Apte et al 1998; Abbasi & Chen 2005).
classification task (Table 4). These features
All these machine learning methods have
may well apply to other psychological
also been successful in a distinct class of text
classification tasks, including recognizing
analysis problems focusing on properties of the
grandiosity (e.g., use of exclamation/question
texts rather than properties of the authors; the
marks, negative/positive emoticons, and
most relevant problems are sentiment analysis
number of long words).
and affect identification (Poria, Cambria &
Summarizing, the most promising approach Gelbukh, 2015, Severyn & Moschitti, 2015,
to the computational problem of threat Teng et al. 2015). In this broader context, the
assessment is some variant of the SLP success of neural networks, especially
approach. Pursuing this paradigm seriously Convolutional Neural Networks (CNNs), is
requires significant work on identifying a useful important. CNNs map word-level
feature set. The work on textual threat representations of sentences or documents into

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fairly low-dimensional representations of the which they apply to SVMs, may be of help.
entire sentence or document. They thus take The process of factoring the problem into
into account, or try to take into account, the simpler parts, each of which may be its own
composition of word meanings into more more tractable machine learning problem, is
complex messages. CNNs have been shown to productive. There are well known ensemble-
be of significant help in sentiment analysis, learning techniques for co-training such
although the shortcomings of a word-oriented separate learners. Abbasi and Chen (2008) and
approach have long been apparent in Poria et al. (2015) provide good examples.
sentiment analysis, because diverse features of
One final point worth noting: An
context may affect the final effect, such as
important component of the progress made in
when sarcasm is used.
text classification over the last few years has
The particular problem of threat analysis been the increasing use of dimensionality
can be viewed as combining the two reduction. Dimensionality reduction has its
approaches of author-oriented analysis and mathematical roots in Principal Components
text-oriented analysis. The psychological Analysis (PCA) and the closely related
profile of the author is a significant factor, as is Singular Value Decomposition. PCA has been
the content of the message. To this may be applied to authorship identification by using
added a third component, identification of a feature covariances over sliding text windows
particular kind of relationship, the predator- to compute author-specific patterns. Recent
prey relationship, between the author and work using neural net trained word vectors
addressee. In two out of three of these (Mikolov et al. 2013) has introduced another
components, it is entirely possible that key "deep learning"-based form of dimensionality
information is not encoded in the message, and reduction, and though the amount of data
that extra-textual features such as that required to train such word embeddings takes
provided by an author profile may prove us well beyond the size of any plausible
essential. The multi-modal nature of the forensically tagged dataset, various practical
evidence is one respect in which the problem of methods of adapting such vectors to specific
threat assessment differs from many other text tasks have been proposed. For example, Tang,
classification problems. Another is that a Wei, Qin, Liu and Zhou (2014) proposed a
multiple component system trained to address method of training the vectors with sentiment
the three components of the problem tags, to learn sentiment-specific word vectors.
separately may have the best success because Similarly, the work of Poria et al. and Severyn
the architectures best suited to each problem and Moschitti, cited above begins with the
are different. For example, the identification of word2vec vectors trained by Mikolov et al.,
personality types or author types seems to and uses CNNs to train a sentence level
benefit from class-specific feature sets (Abbasi sentiment analyzer, in effect training up a set
and Chen 2008, Poria et al. 2015). Finally, the of contextually sensitive word features relevant
best approach may be a "rating-based" to sentiment classification. This provides some
approach that seeks to assign a numerical hope that deep learning may provide ways of
threat level (1-5). This is not simply a 5-class detecting features of texts that have significant
classification problem, since the training subtlety, including the many gradations of
algorithm should exploit the fact that a 4 is predator language, if we can supply the proper
closer to a 5 than to a 1. Thus the "metric training sets.
labeling" technique of Pang and Lee (2005),

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Toward On

The basic
b researcch agenda involves th he could be valuab ble to vaarious agen ncies,
following proceduress. First, corpora of o instituttions, and laaw enforcem ment in prov viding
threateningg messages and a texts wiill be needed d. a relattively efficient holisticc and consiistent
Several suchs corpo ora exist in threa at approaach to evaluaating specific communiccation
management institutiions, both public an nd events and thrreat messages; (2) the
private. The more vetted as to outcome,o th
he developpment of an n open-endeed but annootated
more usefu ul they will be. Second, such threa at corpus of threatss would beecome usefu ul in
corpora will
w be ra ated by experts
e an
nd subsequ uent studiees. Indefinitte but plau usible
laypersons,, using the rating
r scales in Appendiix outcom mes would in nclude poten ntial findingss that
1, or some version of them.
t Thirdd, a corpus ofo more ccredible or dangerous threats maay be
mundane written textt will be id dentified an nd disting uishable by particular features thaat are
collected for
f group discriminatio
d on purposess. easily identified. To the ex xtent that such
Fourth, a variety of computation nal linguistiic approaaches can b be automateed, they caan be
analyses will
w be used to (a) identtify the mosst built in media surveillance dashboards
nto social m
prominent features of the threat corpora tha at (http:///, and corpora
(b) distingguish it from m the mun ndane textua al of thrreat messagges can b be exponen ntially
discourse, (c) examin ne the extent to whicch increassed, substan ntially facilittating assesssment
such featu ures also predict
p the expert an nd validityy efforts (, Fitzgeralld, 2007; seee also
layperson ratings, and d (d) identiffy the degreee https:///
to which expert
e ratin
ngs are more predictablle nsic-lin
nguistic-dataa#threats and
than layperson ratings. Numero ous languag ge https:///vault.fbi.goov/threats-aagainst-memb bers-
corpora ex xist that mig ght serve ass the contro ol of-conggress). Phen nomena rangging from sschool
archive (ee.g., Brezina a & Gabllosova, 2015 5; bullyinng to schooll shootings, mass shoottings,
Drude, Broeder & Trrilsbeek, 201 14; Garfinkeel, and tterrorist ev vents may become more
Farrell, Rooussev, & Dinolt,
D 2009)). The largeer predicttable, and thhus more preeventable.
the corporra, the more stable the results arre
b and greater the op
likely to be, pportunity to t
examine unique
u disccriminating features of o
different ty
ypes of threa ats (e.g., pubblic figure vss.
institutionaal vs. intima ate partner, bombing vss.
school sho ootings, etc..). Furtherm more, to th he
extent tha at exemplarr gold stan ndard threa at
messages can be id dentified in n reasonablle
numbers, they
t can bee used to trrain machin ne
learning prrotocols, wh hich can then be used to t
refine the threat discrrimination process
p on an
ongoing ba asis.

There are two potentiially practical immediatte
possible ou
utcomes of successfully
s pursuing
p thiis
project, assuming
a th
hat linguistiic indicatorrs
provide anya statisttically sign
nificant annd
substantiall precision in
i identifyin
ng serious or
credible thhreats: (1) a holistic rating scalle

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Preliminary THReat Evaluation & Assessment of Discourse (THREAD) Index
A. Feasibility: How capable is the threatener to carry out the threat fulfillment possible (e.g., threatening to bring
on the plague is not very feasible, whereas spreading disparaging rumors is relatively feasible)?
1. INFEASIBLE:_1_:_2_:_3_:_4_:_5_:_6_:_7_:FEASIBLE
B. Capability/expertise: Is there evidence the threatener is able to carry out the threat?
2. INCAPABLE:_1_:_2_:_3_:_4_:_5_:_6_:_7_:CAPABLE
C. Extremity/intensity: How severe are the potential consequences or scope of harm to those threatened (e.g., a
practical joke intended to embarrass is relatively minor, whereas threats to kill you and your family are relatively
3. NEGLIGIBLE/MINOR:_1_:_2_:_3_:_4_:_5_:_6_:_7_:EXTREMELY SERIOUS
4. SLIGHT:_1_:_2_:_3_:_4_:_5_:_6_:_7_:INTENSE
D. Self-efficacy: Does the threatener express confidence and a sense of self-efficacy in carrying out the threat?
5. INSECURE:_1_:_2_:_3_:_4_:_5_:_6_:_7_:SELF-CONFIDENT
6. UNCERTAIN:_1_:_2_:_3_:_4_:_5_:_6_:_7_:SELF-ASSURED
E. Prior efficacy: Is there evidence that the threatener has issued, and followed through with, prior relevant
7. INEXPERIENCED:_1_:_2_:_3_:_4_:_5_:_6_:_7_:EXPERIENCED
F. Linguistic Conditionality: Is the threat phrased provisionally with highly conditional probability in the verb
phrases and contingency phrases (e.g., this may or might happen) or with highly certain and probable types
of phrases (e.g., this will or absolutely is going to happen)?
8. IMPROBABLE PHRASING:_1_:_2_:_3_:_4_:_5_:_6_:_7_:PROBABLE PHRASING
9. UNCERTAIN PHRASING:_1_:_2_:_3_:_4_:_5_:_6_:_7_:CERTAIN PHRASING
G. Immediacy/imminence: What is the time horizon of the language and implied harm (threatening to make you
regret something in your future seems off in the distance, whereas threatening to show up tonight is relatively
10. DISTANT:_1_:_2_:_3_:_4_:_5_:_6_:_7_:IMMEDIATE
11. NON-URGENT/NON-IMMINENT:_1_:_2_:_3_:_4_:_5_:_6_:_7_:URGENT/IMMINENT
H. Knowledge of target: How much information and/or insight into the target/victim is manifest in the threat?
12. UNACQUAINTED:_1_:_2_:_3_:_4_:_5_:_6_:_7_:ACQUAINTED
13. IGNORANT:_1_:_2_:_3_:_4_:_5_:_6_:_7_:KNOWLEDGEABLE
I. Inclusion of others: Are others, such as relevant or mutual children, pets, family, etc., included in the threat?
14. EXCLUSIVE TO TARGET: 1_:_2_:_3_:_4_:_5_:_6_:_7_:INCLUSIVE OF OTHERS
J. Referential foci: Is the threat focused from a self-focus or perspective? Is there a vivid and/or repeated fixation
on self vs. other, or one group against another?
15. FOCUSED ON OTHER(S):_1_:_2_:_3_:_4_:_5_:_6_:_7_:SELF-FOCUSED
16. COLLECTIVELY FOCUSED:_1_:_2_:_3_:_4_:_5_:_6_:_7_:FOCUSED ON US/THEM OR YOU-I
K. Linguistic deviation: To what extent does the language diverge or differ from the language of the person or
group being threatened?
L. Plan Complexity: How complicated is the expressed threat (are there many steps, rigid sequences of steps, or
multiple endeavors required to carry out the threat, or is the threat relatively simple and straightforward.
18. COMPLEX:_1_:_2_:_3_:_4_:_5_:_6_:_7_:SIMPLE
19. CIRCUITOUS:_1_:_2_:_3_:_4_:_5_:_6_:_7_:STRAIGHTFORWARD
M. Message Mode: Is the threat purely verbal, or are there also nonverbal (e.g., objects, visual elements such as
drawings or photographs, etc.) components of the threat?
20. EXCLUSIVELY VERBAL:_1_:_2_:_3_:_4_:_5_:_6_:_7_:NONVERBAL AND/OR VERBAL

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N. Goal-linking: Is there evidence in the language of higher-order goal linking of, or (inter)dependency on the
target with threateners life objectives and/or values (e.g., I cant be happy without you, There is no one in
the world for me but you, etc.), or are the threats unlinked to the target person (e.g., Bad things are going to
21. UNLINKED:_1_:_2_:_3_:_4_:_5_:_6_:_7_:LINKED
22. INDEPENDENT:_1_:_2_:_3_:_4_:_5_:_6_:_7_:(INTER)DEPENDENT
O. Identification fixation: To what extent do words or phrases indicate fixation, preoccupation, and
personal identity fusion with a topic, entity, or person?
23. DIFFUSED IDENTITY:_1_:_2_:_3_:_4_:_5_:_6_:_7_:PREOCCUPIED IDENTITY
P. Coherence/organization: is there evidence that the threatener has engaged in planning, preparation, and/or has
an overall organizing vision of implementing the threat, or is the threat disorganized, chaotic, and ill thought
24. INCOHERENT:_1_:_2_:_3_:_4_:_5_:_6_:_7_:COHERENT
25. DISORGANIZED:_1_:_2_:_3_:_4_:_5_:_6_:_7_:CHAOTIC
Q. Sentiment deterioration: Is there an increase in, or degree of emphasis on speech with increasingly negative,
anger-based terminology?
R. Delusional content: Does the content suggest psychoses or lack of mental competence (are there indications of
unrealistic visions, conspiracy theories, illusions, fantasies, or other psychotic content)?
27. DELUSIONAL:_1_:_2_:_3_:_4_:_5_:_6_:_7_:ACTUALITY
28. FANTASTICAL:_1_:_2_:_3_:_4_:_5_:_6_:_7_:GROUNDED
S. Embeddedness: Are the threats embedded in a broader manifesto, or isolated fragmented thoughts or
29. FRAGMENTED:_1_:_2_:_3_:_4_:_5_:_6_:_7_:PHILOSPHICALLY EMBEDDED
30. ISOLATED:_1_:_2_:_3_:_4_:_5_:_6_:_7_:IDEOGICALLY EMBEDDED
T. Finality fantasies: Are there end-game, suicide fantasies or images, suggested (e.g., If I cant have you, no one
can, Ill take you and me down together, It will all end soon), or is the language more optimistic (e.g., Life
would be so wonderful with you in it, I believe we would make the most amazing couple, etc.)?
31. HOPEFUL:_1_:_2_:_3_:_4_:_5_:_6_:_7_:HOPELESS
32. ENCOURAGING:_1_:_2_:_3_:_4_:_5_:_6_:_7_:FATALISTIC

DEPENDENT VARIABLES: Respond to the next 5 items on a 7-point scale from:

Holistic Credibility Rating:
33. The speaker presents a credible threat.
34. The speaker intends to carry out their threat.
35. The speaker is likely to carry out their threat.
36. The speaker seems determined to do something harmful to someone or something.

Holistic Danger Rating:

37. The speaker seems dangerous.
38. I would be afraid (i.e., experience fear) if I received this message.
39. The speaker appears to be preparing to do something violent.
40. I view this as a serious and/or imminent threat.

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Holistic Threat Ranking:

0 = Not a serious threat
1 = A minor threat
2 = A serious but not imminent threat
3 = An imminent and severe threat

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