The power of social media in tragedy prevention

Kati Gardella, Crier Staff

Social media is an important tool for modern culture, but this communicative resource is often abused.

Immediately after news of the Parkland shooting broke out, conspiracy theories had been released about the identity of the shooter and his reason for opening fire. These hoaxes were malignant to a nation already trying to process another senseless tragedy and the loss of innocent lives.

It is insensitive to knowingly spread false information in such a detached manner about one who has altered the course of so many people’s lives forever. Not only was the identity of the shooter disputed, but so was the credibility of the victims.

The fact that people had the audacity to hide behind computers and phones and accuse traumatized victims (many of whom were lying in hospital beds) of simply being hired actors is quite disgusting. As if it wasn’t horrible enough that they put in so much effort to defame the victims, they also sent survivors death threats.

I believe that those who could spread such hateful accusations and words toward the victims were so overcome by their need to feel involved that they abandoned each particle of their humanity just to be noticed on the internet.

Deindividuation is a powerful psychological phenomenon, and people are far more likely to spread absurd information in an online comment rather than a corporeal conversation. Facebook, Google, and YouTube are steadfastly fighting to remove content that attacks the victims of the shootings.

The only information helpful to society is an accurate profile of Nikolas Cruz, and what lead up to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

A major red flag was Cruz’s disturbing posts on social media. Both of his accounts have been taken down by Instagram, but when active, they included pictures of bullets, Cruz with guns and knives, and the bodies of animals that he had killed.

After viewing such posts and observing Cruz’s erratic behavior, Cruz’s fellow students insisted that he was a threat, and school rumors were rampant that Cruz would be the most likely perpetrator of a school shooting.

Warning signs were flashing red in direct messages that Cruz had sent to a student named Enena Sabadini. Because Sabadini was dating Cruz’s ex-girlfriend, he became a target to Cruz’s violent rants.

Cruz had sent Sabadini a picture of seven guns laid across a bed and said “I have guns b**** ahahahahah,” and in following messages stated “I will kill you!!!!!! Iam going to shoot you dead.” These messages were sent six months before Cruz opened fire.

Sabadini reported that he was not afraid at the time he received the messages. In the conversation, he replied with memes and attempted to diminish the conflict.

He believed that the threats would not be carried out, as by the time that Cruz had sent the messages, he had already been expelled from school. He thought that Cruz was only getting carried away, as people tend to do on the internet.

A true sign of the dynamic changes in modern America is that our leaders are responding instantly to crises by tweeting.

Soon after the shooting, President Trump tweeted “Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities again and again!”

The true problem is that many efforts were made to report concerns to the authorities, and all were met with empty responses. Those in the general population upheld their civic duty by following the rule of “see something, say something.”

On January 5, 40 days prior to the shooting, the FBI received a tip that Nikolas Cruz possessed guns and intended to use them on people.

Against procedure, this information was never passed along to the Miami field office, and was never investigated further.

The office of the Broward County Sheriff had received about twenty calls of concern about Cruz. Two of the deputies are currently under investigation, as it is uncertain if they followed protocol regarding the various 911 calls about Cruz.

As for the concerned members of the community who tried to intervene and stop the tragedy from occurring, blame should not be placed on them.

You cannot put the burden of trying to stop an extremely violent and motivated offender on a neighbor or a classmate.

What is the most frustrating is that all the warning signs were present, and they were noticed. Members of the community responded to the threat and tried to take action, and the tragedy still occurred.

The shooting was not only wracking to the community of Florida, but the nation as a whole. It is a waste of energy to spread hateful and false information, and efforts should instead be put forth to stand in solidarity with the victims, and intervene continuously when warning signs arise.

In Ellsworth, Maine, a teenager named Michael Allen was charged for threatening to open fire at Ellsworth High School. This threat was discovered when the Clash of Clans company reported comments that Allen had made on the mobile game to the FBI.

The company provided the FBI with not only Allen’s post, but also his IP address. The threat was considered to be credible and threatening, as Allen had described his plot in detail, and had specifically targeted his high school’s resource officer.

Allen also reportedly expressed the wish to become even more notorious than Nikolas Cruz, and have at least thirty victims. The company taking action against Allen’s horrific remarks shows that there is still hope for intervening before it is too late.

A teenager from Vermont named Jack Sawyer was accused of attempting first degree murder when his plan to shoot students and teachers at his former high school was revealed. Sawyer’s plans were brought to the attention of police by a concerned friend who had attended a treatment center in Maine that Sawyer had recently left.

In his texts, he stated that he “100% supported” the shooting in Florida, and that he said that he was “still plotting on shooting up my old high school.”

Like Allen, he emphasized targeting the school resource officer. He also specified that he would use an AR-15, the same model of gun that Cruz used.

At-risk teenage boys are the most likely potential copycats of Nikolas Cruz, as the publicity gained from the heinous crime of a school shooting would ensure that they would live on in infamy.

Fortunately, there are always those who refuse to be bystanders, and who take successful measures of intervention. It is extremely important to take what is said digitally into account, as this reflects true thoughts and behaviors.