Blaming YouTube or the FBI for Yesterday’s School Shooting Tragedy Is Just Plain Wrong

UPDATE (February 16, 2018): The FBI is reporting today that on January 5th of this year, they received a tip from an individual close to the shooter, specifically noting concerns about his guns and a possible school shooting. In sharp contrast to the single unverifiable YouTube comment discussed below that had been reported to the FBI, the very specific information apparently provided in the January tip is precisely the kind of data that should have triggered a full-blown FBI investigation. Since the information from this January tip reportedly was never acted upon, this dramatically increases FBI culpability in this case.

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Before the blood had even dried in the classrooms of the Florida high school that was the venue for yet another mass shooting tragedy, authorities and politicians were out in force trying to assign blame everywhere.

That is, everywhere except for the fact that a youth too young to legally buy a handgun was able to legally buy an AR-15 assault-style weapon that he used to conduct his massacre.

Much of the misplaced blame this time is being lobbed at social media. The shooter, whom we now know had mental health problems but apparently had never been adjudicated as mentally ill, had a fairly rich social media¬† presence, so the talking heads are blaming firms like YouTube and agencies like the FBI for not “connecting the dots” to prevent this attack.

But the reality is that (as far as I can tell at this point) there wasn’t anything particularly remarkable about his social media history in today’s Internet environment.

There was — sad to say — nothing notable to differentiate his online activities from vast numbers of other profiles, posts, and comments that feature guns, knives, and provocatively “violent” types of statements. This is the state of the Net today — flooded with such content. When I block trolls on Google+, I usually first take a quick survey of their profiles. I’d say that at least 50% of the time they fall into the kinds of categories I’ve mentioned above.

We also know that 99+% of these kinds of users are not actually going to commit violent acts against people or property.

20/20 hindsight is great, but by definition it doesn’t have any predictive value in situations like this. Law enforcement couldn’t possibly have the resources to investigate every such posting.

In the case of this shooter, the FBI actually became involved since a YouTube user had expressed concern when a comment was left by someone (using the name of the shooter) saying “I’m going to be a professional school shooter.”

That’s not even an explicit threat. There’s no specified time or place. It’s very nasty, but not illegal to say. Social media is replete with far more explicit and scary statements that would be much more difficult to categorize as likely sarcasm or darkly joking around.

The FBI reportedly did a routine records search on that name (of course, anyone can post pretty much anything under any name), and found nothing relevant. To have expended more resources based only on that single comment didn’t make sense. Nor is there apparently any reason to believe that if they’d located that individual, then gone out and immediately interviewed him, that the course of later events would have been significantly changed.

We’re also hearing the refrain that authorities should have the right to haul in anyone reported to have mental stability issues of any kind, even if they’ve never been treated for mental illness or been arrested for any crime.

Well golly, these days that would probably include about four-fifths of the population, if not more. Pretty much everyone is nuts these days in our toxic social and political environments, one way or another.

The world is full of loonies, but these kinds of attacks only happen routinely here in the U.S. — and we all know in our hearts that the trivial availability of powerful firearms is the single relevant differentiating factor that separates us from the rest of the civilized world in this respect.

And that’s the tragic truth.