Can Social Media Companies Detect Future Mass Shooters?

Can Social Media Companies Detect Future Mass Shooters?

As America mourns yet two more tragic mass shootings — occurring this weekend in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas, leaving nine and 20 dead and 27 and 26 wounded, respectively — politicians attempt to find solutions.

Today, while addressing the country in a speech about this recent wave of violence, President Donald Trump said his administration would ask social media companies to develop tools that could detect potential mass shooters in advance.

"We must do a better job of identifying and acting on early warning signs," going on to suggest social media platforms could form new ways of identifying potential "red flags." Trump did not define what any of these tools or new ways could look like, but said in his speech: "I am directing the Department of Justice to work in partnership with local state and federal agencies, as well as social media companies, to develop tools that can detect mass shooters before they strike."

As The Verge reports, while data-mining tools are already widely utilized by social media companies, creating a detection system for violence would "inevitably raise a host of privacy and accountability issues." But if there were some sort of software invented to predict and single out active social media activity of potential shooters, it would crucially stop violent crimes before they occur.

Unfortunately, many recent mass shootings have been preceded by accused killers' troublesome online posts and usage of social media. For instance, according to CNN,Omar Mateen, who killed 49 people in Orlando's Pulse nightclub shooting, reportedly "used Facebook before and during the attack to search for and post terrorism-related content." Dylann Roof, who was sentenced to death following his slaying of nine Black members of a Charleston, South Carolina church, posted pictures of himself wearing clothes with white supremacist imagery.

In an effort to curb future attacks, the FBI is now reportedly investigating 8Chan, a forum for white nationalists that theNew York Times calls a "megaphone for gunmen." The site went dark after the El Paso shooting, before which the shooter posted a "hate-filled" screed on the forum before the shooting. Perhaps most notably, the FBI reports that, though they receive three to four referrals a week of potential violence, most people who see signs of trouble online don't alert the authorities.

This morning, Trump suggested on Twitter that, in addition to social media, the news media also "contributed greatly to the anger and rage" in the U.S. During his speech, he also condemned "gruesome and grizzly video games that are now commonplace," as they contribute to a culture that "celebrates violence." However, he avoided the topic of gun control legislation, instead calling for "strong background checks" on Twitter, as related more to his immigration law policies rather than mandating such checks for gun owners.

Of the deceased and the dozens injured in both the El Paso and Dayton attacks, Trump writes in part, "We can never forget them, and those many who came before them. Republicans and Democrats must come together and get strong background checks, perhaps marrying this legislation with desperately needed immigration reform."

Following the shootings, nationwide candlelight vigils were held for those killed in El Paso and Dayton, as well as protests by gun violence prevention groups, such as Gays Against Guns. As much as hate speech on social media might be an easy thing to blame for contributing to mass shootings in the U.S., what will it take for the Trump administration to take a stand by passing gun reform laws? #WhiteSupremacistInChief is currently trending, as internet users believe that in the case of El Paso, online hate speech, emboldened by Trump's leadership, is what led to those and other fatalities.

"[Trump] endangers us with his divisive and hateful rhetoric,," writes Gays Against Guns' Virginia Vitzthum. "He endangers us by not passing any gun laws that would protect 40,000 people from dying from a gun every year in this country."

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