Digital Footprint

Our digitized age and self-created online worlds form a place where the Internet and social media intersects with our everyday actions.  We can see the outside world, and other people can remotely see into our lives. Whether posting Facebook statuses, browsing Reddit, or researching projects, the Internet is used to communicate in ways allowing an exposure of who we are and what we believe.  

The Internet brings together our physical world and is reflected in our communications and posted media like photos and videos.  Facebook and insurance companies have actually explored working together to “share information” about the risks surrounding your life; because we tell it all.  This is why a closer look at mass shooter’s social media accounts may assist us to thwart future tragedies.

That’s right, after reviewing all the mass shooting scenarios it becomes clear there are consistencies across their online reflections.  The police have discovered that many of the shooters posted insidious messages on social media prior to their heinous acts. Had these posts received attention they should have received by the proper authorities, some of the victims may still be alive today.

Gun Control Debate

It is amazing how the cyber world links with debated policy.  Sandy Hook Elementary School, Connecticut; Pulse Night Club, Florida; Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas; Virginia Tech, Virginia; Thousand Oaks, California are all familiar names.  They represent the sites of mass shootings. These tragedies involved people who had some interaction with the Internet and used social media as a part of their holistic threat approach.

Several ideas have been proposed to stop these mass shootings: Arming teachers with guns, thorough background checks, bump stock ban, reducing the demand of the black market, etc.  The is definitely steam to reducing mass shootings without infringing upon the Second Amendment. However, social media postings are typically public and could be used as a law enforcement tool without the policy fight that typically follows the mention of gun reform.

The State of New York is Thinking

Well, New York State (NYS) has proposed a bill regarding buying guns or renewing gun permits.  Bill S191, drafted by a State Senator from New York’s 21st Congressional District, “requires a person applying for a license to carry or possess a pistol or revolver or a renewal of such license to consent to having his or her social media accounts and search engine history reviewed and investigated for certain posts and/or searches over a period of 1-3 years prior to the approval of such application or renewal.”

The goal of Bill S191 is proposed to protect the American people.  However, it uses an approach that keeps up with our cyber world and real threats as described by the applicant.  Background checks tend to investigate prior criminal records and mental health history. However, there is a failure to thoroughly scan or review who the person is right now.  Exploring the Internet and social media accounts for threatening content or malicious intentions may be the difference.

Social Media Privacy

If the bill were to pass, investigators will have the ability to search for posts that threaten the safety of others, insinuate acts of terrorism, or contain profane slur, including but not limited to gender, race, religion, sex, ancestry, or disability.  Some people still don’t realize that whatever they post online in the form of digital content is “forever”. This means it lasts forever, will not go away and it can be found.  Dangerous comments can turn into actions that have catastrophic outcomes.  To reduce this risk, the cyber world where anyone can feel powerful through a simple post, can empower public safety efforts.   

With the New York bill, anyone applying for a gun permit or renewal in New York State will be required to provide his/her password and login to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat.  And let’s face it, whether you’re in middle school or in your mid-50s, chances that you have 2 out of 4 of these social media platforms are high. Truly, this might go just a little too far, but I like that real thinking around this subject is occurring.  

The bill will get a privacy debate going that is greater than the gun debate, but at least we are approaching saving lives in ways that are not based on putting even more guns in typically safe environments.  I too want answers to questions like “how will applicants be assured that the government will not use their credentials to spy on them in the future”? These questions will require lawmakers to prove their intent is not to overstep privacy lines, but rather that the Internet and social media play an integral role in protecting us.  The cyber world can be very dangerous, but it can also be the solution to ongoing life or death issue.

Since no other solutions pertaining to gun control have been very effective, maybe it is time to turn our attention to a very important component of risk management; threat.  

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