The mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, have ignited another round of talks about the effects of end-to-end encryption of private messages.
This is after authorities revealed that the two killers that caused the shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde used their social media accounts to discuss their plans with online groups.
Social Media’s Role in the Mass Shootings
According to The Washington Post, the Buffalo shooter posted his plans on Discord just months before the attack happened.
The gunman, Payton Gendron, sent an invitation to an online chatroom on the instant messaging platform Discord that was accepted by 15 users, who scrolled through months of Gendron’s disturbing writings and racist rants.
Users who clcked through Gendron’s chatroom saw the live footage of the Buffalo attack.
The attack was also streamed on Twitch, a live-streaming service popular among video game users.
But these posts were only made semi-public around 30 minutes before the shootings began, as Discord clarified.
Gendron even kept a personal diary of his plans within a private Discord server, but it was only visible to him.
The private server and personal diary within were not visible or accessible to other users before the afternoon of May 14, according to 9to5Mac.
During the 30 minutes leading up to the shooting, Gendron shared invitations to view his private server with his personal diary within a couple of other private servers and direct messages.
The invitations were only available on these servers and direct messages and were not accessible to other Discord communities.
Around 15 users accepted the invitation and would have seen his private server and the content, but no one joined.
Meanwhile, the Uvalde school district used AI systems to scan media for this type of content but couldn’t scan private messages.
The Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District scanned social media posts for potential threats years before the mass shooting happened, but it is not clear whether it was in use at the time of the attack.
However, these types of tools are not equipped to work on live video streaming platforms and private messages that young adults and teenagers use.
Those types of messages are closed off to outsiders, who might be able to spot the signs that a troubled person might be about to inflict harm on others.
Calls for Investigations of Social Media Apps
Usually, before starting their plans, suspects used social media apps, treating the platforms like their diaries and showing warning signs of a possible attack through posting. With that, New York State Attorney General Letitia James and New Jersey’s acting Attorney General Matthew Platkin have launched investigations into the role of social media in the Buffalo attack.
The investigation will examine if the lack of policy enforcement on Discord and Twitch allowed the platforms to serve as hubs for extremists. They also believe that these platforms are entry points for children to come into contact with extremist ideologies.
Social media apps can’t monitor threats that are made in private messages. This is what politicians want to fix because being able to alert the authorities when someone posts their vile plans online can help prevent these deadly mass shootings.
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