We have found that in mass shootings and other dramatic acts of violence, including terrorism, where the perpetrators seek recognition, they seem to telegraph their intentions on public social media. This may seem counter-intuitive, and it’s beyond the scope of this short blog to explain all the reasons why this is, and why it will continue to be so… unless we make the mistake of driving these potentially violent folks underground. (That’s another issue I’ve discussed before, the risk of suppressing what is a constantly evolving definition of “hate speech” — often just controversial discussions of major issues.)
Back to the subject at hand — these terrible shootings this last weekend, and the larger issue of this violence that plagues us.
The messengers then are the Bad Actors themselves, the culprits who, regardless of their mental state and degree of illness and depravity, are capable of creating human suffering and death. It is even possible for a mentally ill person to organize and orchestrate a detailed plan of violence.
Yet, despite or because of their mental state, they send messages on public social media — often over a period of time — that express their mindset and emotions, their hatred and intentions, sometimes generally, and even with specifics. These predators are, at first, messengers of their own horrific violence.
We should not shoot these messengers. But we should stop them.
Today, President Donald J. Trump directed the Department of Justice to work harder with state and local law enforcement to find potential attackers. Significantly, the president also called on social media companies to “develop tools to detect mass shooters before they strike.”
As followers of my blog know, I have repeatedly pointed the way toward monitoring public social media in a responsible and ethical way to search for people who may be a danger to themselves and to others. Indeed, I’ve been involved for several years in the embryonic discussions, the precursors to frontline technology that do just that — notably the tested and validated Artificial Intelligence Monitoring Safety platform, for which the developer-firm I3 Ops earlier this year received the coveted Edison Award for artificial intelligence technology.
Mr. President. let me elaborate. First, the DOJ should coordinate with all levels of law enforcement, because if anything is interstate, surely it is the Internet and public social media. But calling on social media companies to do what they should have done long ago may be too little, too late, and a bit curious. With due respect, Mr. President, your own Administration, through the Department of Justice, especially the anti-trust division, and the Federal Trade Commission, is in adversary positions with major tech companies, including Facebook. Don’t let them “do you any favors.”
These companies have (and for good reason) an image problem, compounded by questions relating to their credibility and trust. The only way they can be involved, plausibly, is for a third party company, even if paid by them, a third party company that is independent and can communicate directly with law enforcement. Then it’s law enforcement that makes the call, not the social media company. The third party company, even if paid by the social media conglomerate, has a clear path to law enforcement.
So, that’s one route for you to consider, Mr. President.
Perhaps better is for the federal government itself, which has no axe to grind and is not in the position even remotely of putting corporate image or profits before the public interest, to contract with a third party company, thus (via that third party company) to directly deal with the clues that these violent prone actors put on public social media, sometimes long in advance, other times within hours of their dastardly deed. The federal government, likely the Department of Justice, and perhaps its components such as the FBI, can contract with that third party company, and the federal government then can, in real time, pass on alerts to the regional or local FBI office and immediately related local law enforcement. The protocols can be established and in place. The buck stops with the Feds.As I’ve written in the past, this technology is here, now.. The AIMS platform has the capability to monitor the vast chaos of public social media. Its artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning enable it to mesh content and emotions to quickly focus on potential persons of interest who may be a danger to themselves and to others.
Amazingly, this can all be done in real time. Thus, AIMS can provide graduated alerts, perhaps probabilistic in nature, and very rapidly. The challenge then becomes to alert the requisite law enforcement agency to act, while cautiously and restraint, with due diligence, but deliberatively and quickly, and surely preemptively.
Forget all the partisanship. I’m not writing about arguments for or against different kinds of “gun control” — or the nuances of mental illness, or the effects of antidepressants, or stopping them, or many other subjects that may be germane, depending on your perspective. I’m writing on preventing mass violence through technological intervention, utilizing what appears on social media.
Democrats and Republicans are embroiled in politics. But can’t they agree on the need to seize the moment, and support a dramatic overture to mine the massive nuggets on social media to prevent mass homicide?
Something good can come of this weekend’s horrific events. Mr. President, do what others should have done, but did not do. You’re on the right track. Do what you do best — disrupt the status quo. Bypass the often slow government bureaucracy. We can no longer ignore the telltale signs we have the ability to find on social media. Let’s move forward on this, now, without delay.