Alleged Highland Park shooter had warning signs on social media, as did other suspects, experts say
CHICAGO (WLS) -- Social media sites have millions of subscribers.
Law enforcement has said it can't possibly police every platform. So, what can be done to flag signs of violence before someone takes action?
"It's going to take a holistic approach. I mean, everyone has to get involved," said Emmerson Buie Jr., special agent in charge of the Chicago FBI field office.
The suspects in recent mass shootings, including Highland Park, Uvalde, Buffalo and many others, all had alarming posts on social media before the crimes were committed.
"It requires law enforcement at all levels to make sure that they have an apparatus in place or a method in place to receive information, process it quickly and respond appropriately," Buie told the I-Team.
"It's been an ongoing challenge. I know in 2019, President Trump directed the Department of Justice to start partnerships with federal law enforcement, local law enforcement, social media companies to come up with solutions. Obviously, they're not there yet," said Ed Farrell, former U.S. Marshals Service supervisory inspector and owner of Silver Star Protection Group. "Being able to get the social media companies to flag these posts and report them to law enforcement, and/or local schools, would be a huge component in mitigating these events."
"Social media companies should exercise caution if they're reporting things to law enforcement, because these analysis have to be done on a case-by-case basis. The context, the specificity, the credibility of any alarming content should all be a part of an analysis," said Angela Inzano, policy and advocacy strategist at the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. "And that analysis has to be as free from bias as possible."
"As long as we want to have that first amendment right to post and say whatever we want, unless it incites a riot, we're going to face this fact that people are posting pictures of themselves with guns and provocative statements that others might say, oh, that you should have known. But if there's something that's posted, a photograph or words that are posted, and they're not tied to an action, law enforcement hands are completely tied," said Katherine Schweit, author and former head of the FBI Active Shooter Program.
Schweit took on that role right after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in 2012, when 20 children and six staff members were murdered.
"In a lot of these shootings, we see a lot of 20 year olds who are inspired by that, they want to belong to some group, they want to think they're important," said Schweit.
She said many of these disturbing posts are made on sites few have access to.
"No legislation is going to clean up the internet. It's just not going to happen. So, that really makes it incumbent upon us as the people who are inputting the information, and watching over our kids, and listening to what our husbands or wives might be saying about what they see online," Schweit said. "And it's incumbent on us to make sure that we don't pass along that hate speech, pass along the threatening information that prompts people to commit violent acts."
Schools and universities across the country are spending millions of dollars on software that monitors social media for concerning content. Law enforcement sources tell the I-Team the verdict is still out on whether or not the programs are effective.