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How US mass shooters used social media

Published May 25, 2022


Social media platforms like 4chan have made it easier for extremists like the Buffalo supermarket perpetrator to meet and interact online, warns Jeremy Blackburn an assistant professor of computer science at Binghamton who has been researching “bad actors” online for 10-plus years.

The tragic, racially motivated mass shooting in Buffalo, N.Y., by 18-year-old Payton S. Gendron has been followed by a fresh mass shooting of in Texas on Wednesday where 19 young children and two adults were killed at a primary school.

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Experts at Binghamton University discussed issues around the Buffalo incident, such as the systems, online communities and ideologies that might have led the perpetrator to commit this violent act.

“What's become, unfortunately, painfully obvious over the past five, six years or less, is that the ease with which extremists can find each other and interact with each other in these online communities — especially with degrees of anonymity and lax moderation — means that we have to now accept that this is the modern world and that people are able to interact with each other at scale, and really quickly. We need to really take the online world seriously because it's something that we can't police as easily as we can the real world,” Blackburn.

Similarly, the Texas mass shooter used Instagram to warn people of what was to take place before the incident.

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Adoption of “replacement theory” raises risk for large-scale violence in U.S.

Max Pensky is a professor of philosophy and co-director of Binghamton’s Institute of Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention noted the perpetrator was motivated by replacement theory, which is the idea that there is a secret, international elite, in the United States, that is plotting to replace white Americans with non-white people.

“...It's caused a certain kind of change in the nature of familiar white power and white supremacy militant movements in the United States that does, in fact, raise the risk for broader and wider and more structural political violence. And that has to do with the fact that it's sort of changed the narrative, if you like, of white power, white supremacy militants in the United States — from the superiority of the white race to the existential threats, as we call them, to white people — which now takes off in the form of the idea that white people are the victims of a supposed genocide against them. And we know from comparative cases that when a perpetrator group begins to think of itself as being under threat for its very survival, rather than merely wishing to impose its will on others, that's a powerful driver for increased risk of large-scale violence.”

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Fringe web communities make it easy for extremists to meet

Families, schools could work together to notice troubling trends

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Luann Kida is the executive director of Binghamton University Community Schools, which support youth, families and neighbourhoods within and beyond the doors of the classroom, as well as mental health service initiatives in schools. According to Kida, a closer school/family connection could help address issues facing youths.

“I think, too often, schools and families are disconnected. And so sometimes what's happening in the home, the school is not aware of; what's happening at school, the family is not aware of. And I think by bringing those two voices together, they can start talking about what are those trends that you're seeing online? What are those trouble spots? The school sometimes could bring in resources to help bring some of that forward. So I think that … families absolutely have to be a part of this. I don't think they always know how to be a part of that educational process, because it's constructed in a way that makes sense to teachers and administrators.” - Newswise