The events that transpired today in Baltimore are yet another example of how conversations on social networks can produce catastrophic results, and this post will shed light on social media’s role in the riots.
According to an article by Scott Dance published by The Baltimore Sun, “The incident stemmed from a flier that circulated widely among city school students via social media [on 4/27] about a ‘purge’ to take place at 3 p.m., starting at Mondawmin Mall and ending downtown. Such memes have been known to circulate regularly among city school students, based on the film ‘The Purge,’ about what would happen if all laws were suspended.”
Law enforcement became aware of the threats through their social media monitoring efforts as well as reports by concerned citizens, however not before the threatening messages went viral and reached thousands of students.
When school was dismissed for the day, students flocked to Mondawmin Mall where they were confronted by police officers, which is where the initial confrontation took place that left at least seven officers injured. By 7 PM ET, at least fifteen officers had been injured with two hospitalized.
Improved Monitoring Capabilities
One of the major roadblocks law enforcement agencies face is being able to identify trends on social media before they go viral, and in most cases improved monitoring capabilities could have thwarted catastrophes before they spiraled out of control.
In this instance, a better ability to track conversations on social networks and identify potentially threatening conversations before they reach the masses could have lessened the effectiveness of the flash mob. In essence, suppress the key influencers and prevent others from being influenced.
Looking at this incident and others that have transpired ranging from social media threats against airlines to terrorist activity on social networks, one of the best defenses is having a strong offense.
If we know certain groups are trying to organize via social media using specific keywords, hashtags, geolocations, etc. we must infiltrate the conversations and inject positivity. We must also create white noise to suppress messages that pose a threat.
Law enforcement agencies throughout the country must take a more strategic approach to social media monitoring and threat assessment. Additionally, clearly defined strategies need to be created so agencies have the ability to proactively and effectively suppress threatening posts on social networks before a snowball effect occurs, which is what happened in Baltimore today.