WEST SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — West Sacramento is the first city to launch a controversial new program that watches what people post about it online.

The pilot project gives city leaders a look at what’s trending in the city, whether it’s good or bad. It’s also creating privacy concerns around how the data is being used.

When a wave of mailbox thefts hit the city last year, people complained about it on social media, and West Sacramento was watching. City leaders were alerted to the community concerns by a new system.

ALSO: How To (Mostly) Stop Facebook From Sharing Your Data

“We saw the thing that most people were talking about were mailbox thefts,” said West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon. “That’s something that we might not have noticed just by waiting for people to come to city hall or filing a complaint.”

cabaldon on social media monitoring West Sacramento Launching Controversial Program Watching Publics Social Media Posts

The pilot project with Zencity gives city leaders like Mayor Christopher Cabaldon a look at what’s trending in the city, whether it’s good or bad.

The city is using Zencity, a system that crawls through publicly available social media posts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. It takes all of that data and sorts through to find what people are talking about and whether it’s positive or negative.

“The purpose of Zencity is to see the big picture,” he said.

In January, concerns came from the closure of a Safeway store and the brutal murder of two sisters at the hands of their father. In March, a shooting threat at River City High School generated negative posts over the lack of updates from police and school staff.

“It’s not that Zencity replaces our other forms of civic engagement, it’s just a way to listen more,” he said.

But in the wake of the Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal and concerns over data collection in general, some are worried about where that data goes and who sees it.

ALSO: App Helps Track West Sacramento Homeless To Improve Outreach

“There are ways this could go wrong,” said Peter Eckersley with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “Once you get into policing there are many more potential concerns around the use of artificial intelligence.”

The ACLU worries about the potential misuse of the technology. Facebook started as a social engagement tool, then turned into a behemoth that exposed user data, even in unplanned ways.

“There’s no privacy issues because we’re not opening up anything that hasn’t already been published publicly for the purpose of being public,” Cabaldon said.

Instead, he hopes it will give all residents an equal say in civic matters.

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

The city is spending $12,000 from the Measure E sales-tax increase to license the software for one year. It gets a 66 percent discount as an early user.

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Comments (32)
  1. To the so called ‘city leaders’ have a banana

  2. Except social the people who utilize social media don’t necessarily represent the big picture. Rants on FB and Twitter may or may not be justified. They may not be the loudest voices at the public hearings, but they are the loudest voices on social media….because they’re not engaged enough to actually attend a public meeting. It’s easier to rant and complain on social media than to actually face your political representatives and present your case. A computer and a FB page doesn’t automatically lend credibility to the posts of the user. Also, it’s a mistake to assume a majority of your constituency is utilizing social media.

  3. Bill Kelly says:

    This reminds me of the USS Fitzgerald collision, where the bridge crew relied so much on the technology of radar it neglected to look out the windows.
    Social media posts can be spoofed. Just a few people can generate thousands of posts about a particular issue, swaying government leaders (or school administrations) into believing there is a problem when none exists.
    If you think you are out of touch with the people, GOYA and go talk to them. Go have coffee, bag groceries, walk in the parks, ride along with the police and fire, visit a hospital, sit in the DMV. Spend the taxpayer dollars more wisely. $12,000 can fix a lot of sidewalks, fix some potholes, buy safety gear for your PD, fire or public works.

  4. John Dendy says:

    So big brother really is watching.

    1. So, don’t complain that public officials don’t hear you.

  5. I think it should be “West Sacramento is listening.” Just like this post, nothing is private about public posts. What a good idea to provide better priority. And, all from publically available data.

  6. What happens when the algorithms are manipulated? How would the city react if their reports show that the citizens want to remove all public officials or have the tap water replaced with Kool-aid?

  7. Maybe the City should worry more about how they run the City and not what people are saying?

  8. tngilmer says:

    1984 was prophetic. It was not just fiction it seems.

  9. This will all be well and good until the Firefighters decide not to protect your home because you complained of their pensions, and the nurse delivering your baby is angry that you said something bad about her councilman husband in a post, or the job you applied for has your resume tanked after they realize you posted in favor of the NRA. Good luck with that. Yes, yes I know this is all public but do we really want to encourage and aid the government into scrutinizing everything we say in public? It will go bad in the end….

    1. Anyone who is dumb enough to post anything they don’t want widely known, can suffer the consequences of their STUPIDITY!

  10. This is what to expect with liberals (communists) in charge!

  11. justme22 says:

    Another great reason to stay the heck out of California.

  12. pantsfreezone says:

    Liberalism is a mental disorder.

  13. left California last year..so glad I did..

  14. Lee Sargeant says:

    I hope you learn something about not being a useful idiot to islam and other left wing ideologies such as communism, Marxism, secular socialism (communism with a smiley face), and fascism. Yeah – you, mayor. You are going against the 1st amendment and that smells like a lawsuit to me.

    this smells like a lawsuit since it goes against our 1st amendment rights. And who is giving this moron the idea to do that? Someone who is offended that we post about their idiotology? What group of people(s) get offended over such things (look at my pic and you will see one group – the other group are our own who put out groups such as antifa, blm, etc.).

  15. Lee Sargeant says:

    Totalitarian regimes slither in and do this sort of thing and tell everyone – oh, it is just about the complaints about a safeway closing down, etc.

  16. “Anti-racists” say there’s a RACE problem. They say it’ll be solved when non-Whites pour into ALL & ONLY White nations and “assimilate” to get a brown mixture.

    They say only White nations have this RACE problem; they say non-White nations are fine.

    If I object to my own genocide these “anti-racists” say I am a naziwhowantstokillsixmillionjews.

    They say they’re anti-racist. What they are is anti-White.

    Anti-racist is a codeword for anti-White.

  17. Turn OFF the sound, and watch the people, then ask which one is creepier, the Government Official or the Hacker Org Spokesperson?
    Let them spy on each other.

  18. I don’t know if they’re still there in West Sacto, but I’ve had every one of my S&W revolvers “super-tuned” by Davis Service Center…double actions as slick as goose grease!

  19. Farming white people. West Sacremento are submissive people with cash. City wants it. California needs cash. When will moonbeam, start confiscating houses, and give them to illegals?

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