UPDATE (1/19/15): Threats have shifted from Twitter to Instagram as well as Yik Yak.
After studying potential threats on social media channels for over two years, our research indicates that a vast majority of social media threats are voiced on Twitter, which makes perfect sense.
The reality is that individuals posting threatening messages on social networks are on a mission to not only potentially commit crimes, but also gain attention. They feel compelled to share what has made them so distraught and what their next steps are. Sometimes these individuals satisfy their appetite for attention by simply posting threatening material, while others are intent on actually doing harm.
Since Twitter is one of the most open social networks where you don’t have to follow/befriend accounts to view updates, tweets are available to the masses and can be found a variety of ways (searching hashtags, specific keywords, etc.). This makes Twitter a platform where threats can be quickly posted and easily seen by others.
In Twitter’s defense, they try hard to remove abusive content but often times it’s difficult to pickup tweets that violate their rules and Terms of Service, especially given the astronomical amount of tweets posted every day. Due to such, in most cases they rely on users to report abusive content.
According to Twitter’s website, “Users may not make direct, specific threats of violence against others, including threats against a person or group on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, age, or disability. Targeted abuse or harassment is also a violation of the Twitter Rules and Terms of Service.”
We believe the number of threats posted on Twitter will continue to rise in the coming months, especially threats against educational institutions. Due to such, we are devoting extra resources to expanding our knowledge and capabilities when it comes to understanding threatening tweets as well as identifying them before harm can be done.