For the last three days, our blogs have emphasized the crucial role that social media and open-source monitoring can play in preventing school violence.  Yesterday’s school shooting in Bakersfield, California served, unfortunately, as a somber – and painful – case in point.

Within mere minutes of the shooting, one of our analysts found open-source evidence that was disturbing: postings not by the shooter, but by other Taft Union students in the days immediately preceding the incident – about shooting people at the school, violence, suicide and death.  Here is a sample:

  • One student writes: “So @[redacted] told me to come back to Taft High School and kill everyone.  I might just have to take him up on that.”
  • Another adds:  “I’m nice to the weird kid, so he’ll spare my life when he snaps.”
  • The most disturbing is a stream of messages sent three days ago from a student who desperately needs help.  His posts are filled with rage and hatred and include a picture of himself placing a semi-automatic pistol in his mouth.  The message associated with the picture reads “done living on this planet.”
  • The same student posted a message yesterday that describes the shooter’s “hit list” that kids knew about last year.

We immediately conveyed this information to the Kern County Sheriff’s Office.  Today we learned more: that the shooter was called out on Twitter earlier in December by students who feared he would kill people at school.  This was even reported by one of her parents who saw the tweet and was concerned. So could acting on this information in advance have prevented this shooting?  Very possibly.  Remember, however, that just because a teenager posts dark or violent statements doesn’t mean he or she will resort to violence.  But when they do post violent or self-destructive statements, we need to at least take it seriously and check into the matter.  If we don’t use every tool at our disposal to prevent targeted violence against our kids, then we have failed.  We cannot prevent all school violence, but as a nation, we have to do a better job using social media to discover those on a path to violence. What about social media and open-source platforms themselves?

  • Should they be legally required to remove and report explicitly violent messages suggesting that the author could be on a path to violence?
  • If not, do they have a moral, social or ethical obligation to do so?
  • Is it the federal government’s role or is every school and community on their own?

As disturbing as yesterday’s act of targeted school violence is, it unmistakably illustrates the clear and compelling need for action.  For our part, as Act #11, we will continue to monitor and report social media when we find indications that an individual is moving down a path of violence and we will help any school that uncovers disturbing posts authored by their own students evaluate this information and better understand their options.

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