Over the years metal detectors have proven to be highly effective for everything from detecting weapons at schools to locating hidden treasures in far off places, radar systems are capable of pinpointing intruders from many miles away, and methane monitors ensure miners return to their families after a long days work. But, why are schools failing at monitoring social media for potential threats and, as a result, students are being killed on a regular basis? It’s simply not acceptable.
When you take a step back and look at the big picture, there are three key problems at play:
1) Social media threat assessment for schools is too micro for the federal government and even local law enforcement agencies.
2) Those attempting to identify social media threats and thwart catastrophes, such as school police or private security teams, are not experts in social media so their effectiveness is severely limited.
3) A majority of the tools being used for social media threat assessment are not purpose-built and produce more false positives than actionable intelligence. It’s like trying to hammer a nail using any old blunt object versus an actual hammer – clearly there’s a reason hammers exist.
One of the biggest roadblocks schools face when trying to monitor social media channels for potential threats is a disconnect between what they think they need and what’s actually needed. In particular, what an individual says in any given post (i.e. tweet) is only a fraction of their intent and interests, and it’s imperative to become intimately involved in conversions to understand the entire threat landscape.
What types of content do individuals post? What content do they actively engage? What times do they typically update their social networking profiles and could such times elude to something much more (i.e. distressed posts at 4am when others are likely sleeping).
The point is, to extract valuable information from social media schools must forget the notion that a single post will magically reveal a threat before a catastrophe takes place and there will [hopefully] be enough time to respond. It’s usually posts like this that occur immediately before incidents take place and after the fact more information comes to light showing a steady buildup of angst, erratic behavior, and ultimately violent actions.
Additionally, at a certain point school administrators need to come to the realization that they just don’t have the internal expertise or resources to keep students safe, and must begin to look for true experts from the outside. Understand what you know and accept what you do not, as with most things in life.
What keeps me up at night is knowing that school massacres aren’t going to stop and the only thing we can do is work to improve social media threat assessment capabilities. The goal: Proactively identify erratic behavior before it evolves into an imminent threat.
To conclude this article, watch the below special from CNN on gun violence and look at the pain in everyone’s faces. In many cases there were signs on social media before killings took place, which is what drives me and Soteria Intelligence to do our part to make the world a safer place.