Technical connection to mass shootings

I was thinking of writing a column about the “technical angle” of filming Buffalo, but ended up changing the subject at the last minute. Unfortunately, the subject is coming back into the news because of the horrific massacre of innocent children in Texas.

Larry Magid (Gary Reyes/Mercury News)

To be clear, technology is not to blame for these shootings. Bullets, not bites, claimed the lives of 10 people in Buffalo and 21 people, including 19 elementary school students, in Uvalde, Texas. Still, some blame video games and social media, as well as mental illness. And some claim that social media causes a breakdown in mental health that leads to mass shootings.

The data on the relationship between violent video games and aggressive behavior is worth revisiting, but from what we know at this point, these games are not a major factor. I strongly support increased funding for mental health programs, but according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s 2019 report, Global Burden of Disease, mental illness in the United States is very close to that of countries where the rate of mass shootings is much lower. Australia and New Zealand, which saw significant reductions in gun violence, both had higher rates of reported mental illness than the United States.

Violent video games

Some blame violent video games for these shootings, but as a policy paper from a division of the American Psychological Association puts it, “Little evidence has emerged that establishes a causal link or correlation between playing violent video games. and commit violent activities”. This is not to say that such games are necessarily appropriate for all children and adolescents, nor does it contradict data suggesting that such games can cause aggressive behavior shortly after playing, but as the late judge wrote Antonin Scalia in his Supreme Court majority decision rejecting a California law regulating video games, “They show at best some correlation between exposure to violent entertainment and tiny real-world effects, such as children getting feeling more aggressive or making louder noises within minutes of playing a violent game than after playing a non-violent game.”

social media

When it comes to violence, four aspects of social media are worth considering:

  • One is its impact on mental health in general.
  • Second, it can radicalize and divide people in ways that increase the likelihood that they will attempt to harm certain groups or individuals.
  • A third factor is the way social media is used to telegraph people’s intentions, perhaps serving as a warning that they might be doing something to harm themselves and others.
  • Fourth, how social media is used to spread or celebrate violence or as a platform to share the grievances of perpetrators.

I think it’s fair to say that social media can have an impact on mental health, but in addition to negative impacts, there are also positive ones, depending on how it’s used. Obsessive use of almost anything, including social media, can affect your self-esteem, especially if you compare yourself to others. There is evidence of a recent increase in mental health issues among adolescents, but this can be attributed to many factors, including the pandemic and social isolation. But I haven’t seen any convincing evidence of a general increase in aggressive or violent behavior as a result of social media, except in cases where people have been radicalized or desensitized to violence because of their participation in online forums. line that spread hate or misinformation.

By my second criterion, as the Associated Press put it, “The 18-year-old shooter accused of a murderous racist rampage at a Buffalo supermarket seems to fit an all-too-familiar profile: a wronged white man steeped in hate- conspiracies filled online and inspired by other extremist massacres Online radicalization is a serious problem, but it is fair to point out that there are many more young people who are using social media to spread messages of love, of harmony and decency.

According to my third point, there are many cases where killers have signaled their intentions on social networks. In some cases, these were reported to the authorities and the crimes were averted. In others, they went unnoticed or unreported. That’s why it’s important to say something if you see anything suggesting potentially violent behavior.

According to Number Four, in addition to being radicalized online, the young Buffalo killer took to Twitch to live-stream his attack and went online to post a 180-page ‘manifesto’ to share his racist views. and anti-immigrants linked to his murdering supermarket customers in a predominantly black neighborhood of Buffalo.

To its credit, Twitch removed the killer content within minutes as is usually the goal of social media. Yet social networks, including major ones like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, continue to be used to spread hate speech and misinformation that can lead to violence, despite company policies to ban such content and ban it. delete when discovered.

Right to moderate hanging by a thread

If the Texas legislature gets its way, social media companies could be barred from removing hate speech and misinformation as well as any other content they deem offensive or inappropriate. A recently passed law, HB 20, was temporarily blocked by the U.S. Supreme Court, but only suspended the law while it was argued in lower courts. The law, according to an analysis by the Texas Law Research Organization, “could incentivize companies not to remove content that may be objectionable but not illegal, such as bullying, misinformation, or even hate speech.” The question is whether private companies can be held to the same standards as government agencies when it comes to an almost anything goes approach to freedom of expression. Yes, you have the right to spread lies or spew racist, sexist and homophobic rhetoric on a public street, but I have the right to kick you out of my house if you do it in my living room, and so far , social media companies have that same right.

Go forward

Assuming so-called anti-censorship laws like the one passed in Texas are eventually overturned or repealed, social media companies will continue to have the right to enforce their rules. But I would reinforce that by saying that they have a responsibility to do so when it comes to hate speech and incitement to violence. I know there are gray areas and slippery slopes any time you restrict speech, but if I was running a business, I would do my best to avoid aiding and abetting bigotry and radicalization.

But words, vile as they are, don’t kill people, even though they can inspire violence. The bullets that pulverized the tiny bodies of these fourth-graders at Robb Elementary School came from an AR-15 style weapon that should never have been sold to an 18-year-old or, for that matter, to anyone outside of the military or law enforcement. . Just as the First Amendment is not absolute when it comes to child sexual abuse images or screams of fire in a crowded theater, the Second Amendment also does not give the right to own a weapon that can be manufactured. if so, it would be legal to possess fully automatic weapons or, for that matter, nuclear bombs, or for convicted felons to carry firearms.

Larry Magid is CEO of ConnectSafely, a non-profit internet safety organization that receives financial support from social media companies.

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