If social media can be used to recruit terrorists, it can also be used to stop them.
In testimony before a Senate panel last week, FBI Director James Comey stated that ISIS has over 21,000 English-speaking followers on Twitter and that this form of “crowdsourcing terrorism” is living proof that social media works. Unfortunately, it appears that this type of internet-based recruiting of “Lone Wolf” terrorists has worked yet again as manifested by yesterday’s attack at two military facilities in Chattanooga which left four dead and three others injured. One news source reported that prior to the shooting the suspect posted on his blog Islamic rhetoric referring to “separate the inhabitants of Paradise from the inhabitants of Hellfire.”
Well, if social media can work for ISIS in recruiting these self-radicalized terrorists or individual lone wolf attackers, it can also work against them. As concerned citizens and guardians of our communities we the people can mobilize to report posts from potential lone wolf attackers who seek to injure and kill others. A familiar mantra from law enforcement over the years has been to stay vigilant in our fight against crime. Today, staying vigilant online is just as important—and, as demonstrated by a recent case in Canada— can result in saving lives.
This past February, a Geneva, Illinois woman was arrested in Canada for a shooting plot after leaving a trail on social media, including a post prior to her arrest that said “Let’s go commit mass homicide.” Lindsay Souvannarath posted disturbing pictures advocating race hatred, an allegiance to Hitler and Nazi beliefs, bizarre photos of herself and others, and what appeared to be a fascination with mass killers and their handiwork, especially the Columbine High School shooters and their tools of murder. Police received a tip about a couple planning a Valentine’s Day massacre at a mall in Halifax, Canada, and she was arrested by Canadian police on charges of conspiracy to commit mass murder. Her partner in this thwarted crime committed suicide before authorities could take him into custody.
As responsible citizens who care about our communities, we need to assist law enforcement in serving as their on-line “eyes and ears” when we see threatening posts. Maybe even more importantly when we see posts and also have personal knowledge of potential offenders securing or practicing with weapons or making threats against specific individuals or groups we can “connect the dots” and provide that information to local, state or federal authorities. If you are online and read a post that includes terrorist-related chatter, threats and postings regarding weapons and mass murder, or information on upcoming or planned attacks, don’t assume that someone else will report it. Take personal responsibility and call your local police or federal authorities. If terrorist organizations or lone wolf attackers believe social media works for them, let’s show them it can also work against them.
John Matthews is the executive director of the Community Safety Institute. He is a 30-year law enforcement veteran, the author of Mass Shootings: Six Steps for Survival , School Safety 101, and the co-author of The Eyeball Killer, a first-hand account of his capture of Dallas' only serial killer.