A Connection Between Mass Murders and Social Media Is Probably a Red Herring washingtonpost.com

Naomi Nix and Cat Zakrzewski, the Washington Post:

The way that generation uses social media more generally could render years of work to spot and identify public signs of upcoming violence obsolete, social media experts warn.

“There is this shift toward more-private spaces, more-ephemeral content,” said Evelyn Douek, a senior research fellow at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. “The content moderation tools that platforms have been building and that we’ve been arguing about are kind of dated or talking about the last war.”

Many recent mass murderers have established a relationship between their horrific crimes and social media platforms. One of the primary sources of information about these criminals’ beliefs has been the evidence left behind in their own posts. That is also true of the hate crime in Buffalo, New York earlier this month. But it is worth being skeptical given that Americans are not particularly active on social media compared to people in other countries.

Reporting the following day from Cristiano Lima in the Washington Post’s “Technology 202” newsletter struck a more cautionary tone:

But former tech staffers, researchers and industry critics alike said rushing to draw a connection between the shooting and social media — particularly a causal one — is misguided and may distract from broader debates about the cause of such attacks.

“We should take care with how much we center the role of platforms unless there’s evidence to suggest that they substantively contributed to the violence,” said Emerson Brooking, a resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, a think tank that researches online extremism.

Just about every country has social media, violent video games, believers in conspiracy theories, and guns in private hands. But only one nation is an outlier in both guns and mass shootings. Beware of the people attempting, as always, to shift blame from guns to anything else. Three full days of conversations about how many doors are on buildings is unhelpful and distracting. Blaming social media is probably just as ineffectual, though it is one avenue for deeper beliefs to spread. There is a single policy area where changes must be made first: guns.