School shootings have become an all-too-common occurrence in the United States. As a result, many social activists look to root causes and what can be done to prevent them. To that end, some people have evaluated the connection between school shootings and social media.
Online users often take to social media to express sympathy in the aftermath of a school shooting. Others use social media as an opportunity to call for change. Some researchers use social media to prevent future school shootings. In some cases, the school shooters themselves advertise that they're going to kill people on social media before doing they go on a shooting spree.
Social Media As a Response Tool
It's often the case that people get their breaking news from social media, predominantly Twitter. That's especially true when there's a tragedy, such as a school shooting.
Following the Newtown, Connecticut massacre in 2012, people went on social media not only to report about the latest developments, but also to express shock and outrage.
"Who does this? They were children! #NotRight #Connecticut," tweeted Adam Tomlinson.
The governor, Dan Malloy, took to Twitter to announce that flags in the state would be flown at half-staff.
In the aftermath of a school shooting, social media is often a "venting" space where people express their frustrations. It's also often a time of political finger-pointing and back-and-forth sniping about whose ideas are best to prevent future shootings.
During a School Shooting
In February, 2012, a young killer went on a rampage in an Ohio high school, fatally shooting three classmates. During the whole episode, some students took to social media to let other people know what was going on and that they were okay.
Thanks to the Mobile Age, students can now take their social media platforms with them almost everywhere they go, including school. As a result, they can provide live updates about what's going on during a lockdown situation. They can also offer relief to worried parents by letting them know that they haven't been victimized.
Before a School Shooting
On some occasions, the shooters themselves send signals that they're unstable or even murderous.
In the case of the Ohio school shooting, the shooter had reportedly posted "Die to you all" on Facebook shortly before murdering three students. It's safe to say that a status update of that nature is, at a bare minimum, a desperate cry for help.
However, there didn't seem to be any other warnings. The shooter seemed to be liked by his classmates and didn't suffer from any apparent stigmas, as some kids do.
"I was really shocked when I found out that it was him," said fellow student Evan Erasmus. "He was, I mean, he was quiet, but he was one of the nicest kids there. You could talk to him really easily. I mean, he was funny. It was really shocking that it was him."
Prior to the school shooting at a community college in Oregon last year, 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."
Jared Loughner, who shot and almost killed U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, left ominous messages on YouTube and MySpace.
In the wake of the tragedies that have occurred over the last couple of decades, there's broad agreement that threats posted on social media should be taken seriously.
This past November, Arizona State University put students on high alert following a threat posted on social media. An anonymous poster took to 4chan and promised to attack people at the school with a rifle.
Preventing School Shootings
Social media can also offer insights into the minds of killers and help prevent school shootings.
Dave Cullen is author of the book Columbine, about the 1999 school shooting that took place at Columbine High School in Colorado. He says that psychopaths "love giving us clues" ahead of time.
As we've seen, one of the ways that psychopaths do that is with social media.
Mary Ellen O'Toole is a retired FBI profiler. She uses the word "leakage" to describe how some murderers will drop hints about their plans to carry out an attack.
in the case of the Newtown shooter, Adam Lanza, his online communications indicated that he was suffering from depression. Almost all social media platforms don't do anything when it comes to posts like this and users tend to ignore these messages since it won't get many "like"s. Recently on Facebook I saw a suicide note that only received attention after the guy ended his life. New social platforms like Paralign have tried to tackle this problem by providing anonymous support from a network of caring users and empowering users to anonymously express deep thoughts without the fear of judgment.
Wrapping It Up
There is a connection between social media and school shootings. That connection occurs afterwards when people express their thoughts about the shooting on social media, during the shooting itself when students use social media to provide live updates, and sometimes before the shooting when murderers use social media to drop signals about their intentions.