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Could Social Media Screening Help Protect Us From Gun Violence?

By Ben Offringa on 15 Feb 2018
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Once again, our nation is faced with a tragic loss in the wake of another school shooting. While our society collectively mourns, the inevitable question arises: How can we prevent this from happening again?

While lawmakers and citizens alike are locked in a heated stalemate over background checks, mental health examinations, or assault rifle bans altogether, everyone agrees that more must be done to protect innocent lives moving forward.

So what steps can we as community members take right now to prevent further gun violence? One answer may be in the power of collective social action online.

Identify early warning signs of gun violence in online behavior.

Those connected with yesterday’s shooter on various social media accounts can and have attested to the violent manner in which he spoke. His instagram account was filled with posts about guns and gun violence as well as numerous racial slurs toward Muslims. Today, he was claimed as a member of a white nationalist group in Florida by its leader, according to The Associated Press.

But this is not an isolated phenomenon:

  • Prior to a 2015 school shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, a series of messages reportedly appeared on 4chan that foreshadowed the event. “Some of you guys are alright,” said one of the messages. “Don’t go to school tomorrow if you are in the northwest.”
  • A man who shot and almost killed U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords in 2011 left ominous messages on YouTube and MySpace.

These threats, whether cries for help or for attention, should not be ignored if the appropriate context for potential violence is present. If you would like to understand how the FBI classifies a credible threat, check out their documentation on the prevention of school shootings.

Related Topic: How does social media background screening work?

Report any indicators of intended violence to local and immediate authorities.

In the wake of tragedies we often get so caught up pointing fingers we forget to realize that we can protect our own communities by reporting disturbing online content to local authorities.

It’s come to light that the FBI was warned about the Florida shooter about 5 months ago— in fact, he was barred from entering the school’s campus as a result of death threats made to other students. While the FBI is a powerful resource in any active shooter investigation, the agency receives hundreds, even thousands of reports a day. Even as more resources within the FBI were dedicated toward threats of school shootings after Sandy Hook, local authorities will always be the first and best method of prevention in a community. Whether it’s the police or the principal of a school, if it seems like there is any immediate danger or explicit warning of future violence posted online, report it. It could save lives.

Safety is everyone's responsibility.

As a social media background screening company, we see threats of gun violence on every social media platform, every single day. It is our corporate responsibility to report these instances to that person’s potential employer in a hiring situation— it’s is one simple measure that we take to prevent violence in the workplace. It's a sad reality, but this is only a small piece of the pie in a nationwide crisis of violence.

While lawmakers continue to talk circles around this issue, gun violence in schools and public spaces continues to grow. If you are in a position— whether in your job, in your hobbies, or in your personal life— to prevent gun violence in whatever way you can, we encourage you to use that influence and effect positive, immediate change.

If you would like to help victims of the Florida school shooting, here is a list of resources that can help a broken community heal.