Threat-Detection Company Social Sentinel Lays Off 19 Employees | Off Message

Threat-Detection Company Social Sentinel Lays Off 19 Employees

by

KEVIN MCCALLUM
  • Kevin McCallum
Another Burlington tech company handed out pink slips this week.

Social Sentinel, which alerts school districts to potentially threatening public social media posts, laid off 19 people, shrinking from 45 employees to 26. The company said 12 people lost jobs based in Burlington, while seven remote workers were let go. The cuts affect 42 percent of its workforce.

The company had been growing fast in the wake of the epidemic of school shootings around the country. But now it says it needs to shift to other markets, and the layoffs are necessary while that transition takes place. It characterized the cutbacks as temporary.



“While the education industry has been our top priority, we believe that a focus on other markets will both create more opportunities for public safety and mental wellness support, and also help position Social Sentinel for future growth,” the company said in a statement. “As we reposition ourselves internally, we are scaling back our team in order to scale up.”

Spokesperson Alison Miley provided the statement but declined to offer additional details about the changes. Company offices in the South End Innovation Center were dark shortly after 4 p.m. Tuesday.

The layoffs follow others announced just last week at Burlington-based Dealer.com, which creates and manages websites for car dealerships nationwide. That company, which is owned by Atlanta-based Cox Automotive, said it had cut fewer than 15 positions from its 1,100-strong workforce during two rounds of layoffs.

Social Sentinel was founded in 2014 by Gary Margolis, the former police chief of the University of Vermont. The company just last year was touting its growth rate and prospects.

In an October 2018 press release about the hiring of Rick Gibbs, the former CEO of Dealer.com, as its new president, Social Sentinel claimed “triple digit” growth and an 80 percent increase in staffing in 2018. At the time, it was predicting it would double in size in 2019.

Social Sentinel recently said its software was in use at schools in 36 states. The statement touted the software’s popularity and efficacy.

“Our proprietary technology is applied across hundreds of districts throughout the country, and has led to numerous interventions, life-changing conversations, and the prevention of suicide or violence,” the statement read.

Social Sentinel's algorithms scan social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, to identify phrases by users that could indicate a threat, such as “kill” or “shoot.” Thousands of words made up a “language of harm” library, and posts using such terms are forwarded to schools for review.

Some people have raised privacy concerns, however, about a service that effectively allows an arm of the government — schools — to monitor people’s online activity. Some law enforcement agencies that used the service said it wasn’t providing officers with useful information, and some school districts did not renew their contracts over funding pressures.