Texas shooting: How social media repeatedly fails to detect signs left by gunmen

There were warning signs for anyone stumbling upon before an 18-year-old gunman entered an elementary school in Texas killing 19 children and two teachers on Tuesday.

there was instagram photo of a hand holding a gun magazine, a TIC Toc Profile containing the warning, “Scare the kids,” and an image of two AR-style semi-automatic rifles displayed on a rug pinned to the top of the killer’s Instagram profile.

Shooters are leaving digital trails that indicate what’s to come long before the trigger is actually pulled.

“When someone starts posting pictures of guns, they’re announcing to the world that they’re changing,” said Katherine Schweit, a retired FBI agent who leads the agency’s active shooter program. “It’s absolutely a cry for help. It’s a tease: Can you hold me?”

However, foreboding posts often get lost in an endless grid of Instagram photos featuring semi-automatic rifles, handguns, and ammunition. There’s even a popular hashtag dedicated to encouraging Instagram users to upload photos of guns daily, with over 2 million posts attached.

For law enforcement and social media companies, spotting a gun post from a potential mass shooter is like sifting through quicksand, Schwait said. That’s why she asks people not to ignore such posts, especially from children or young adults. Report it, she advises, to a school counselor, the police, or even the FBI tip line.

Increasingly, young men have taken to Instagram, claiming to be a thriving gun community, to leave small signs that come with pictures of their own weapons days or weeks before a mass murder was committed. Is.

Posted by Nicolas Cruz, before 17 students and staff members were shot dead at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018 youtube That he wanted to be a “professional school shooter”, and shared photos of him posing with guns, with his face covered. The FBI took a tip about Cruz’s YouTube comment, but never followed up with Cruz.

In November, 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley shared a photo of a semi-automatic handgun bought by his father, with which he “got my newfound beauty today” just days before killing four students and injuring seven others. Shared with caption. His high school in Oxford Township, Michigan.

And just days before he entered the school classroom and murdered 19 young children and two teachers, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos left similar clues on Instagram.

On May 20, the day law enforcement officials say Ramos purchased the second rifle, a photo of two AR-style semi-automatic rifles appeared on his Instagram. He tagged another Instagram user with over 10,000 followers in the photo. Later in an exchange shared by that user, she asks why he tagged her in the photo.

The Instagram user wrote, “I barely know you and you tagged me in a picture with some guns, it’s just scary.”

Uvalde’s school district also spent money on software, which monitors potential hazards in the area using geofencing technology.

However, Ramos did not make any threats directly in the post. As recently as turning 18, he was legally allowed to bear arms in Texas.

His photos of semi-automatic rifles are just one of many on platforms like Instagram. Facebook and YouTube where posting pictures or videos of guns is common and shooter training videos are prevalent. YouTube prohibits users from posting instructions on how to convert firearms to automatic. but metaThe parent company of Instagram and Facebook does not limit photos or hashtags around firearms.

This makes it difficult for platforms to differentiate people who post gun pictures from those with violent intent, said Sarah Eniano, a social media and propaganda researcher at Monmouth University recently.

“In an ideal world, there would be some magical algorithm that could detect a worrying photo of a gun on Instagram,” Aniano said. “For a number of reasons, this is a slippery slope and impossible to do when there are people like gun collectors and gunsmiths who have no plans to use their weapon with malicious intent.”

Meta said Wednesday it was working with law enforcement officials to investigate Ramos’ accounts. The company declined to answer questions about reports it received on Ramos’ accounts.

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