Van Hipp: Anti-violence hotline could prevent some deadly attacks

When social media company executives gather Friday at the White House to discuss ways to combat online calls for violence in the wake of the weekend mass murders in Ohio and Texas they should discuss creating an anti-violence hotline to prevent future attacks.

President Trump invited the tech and Internet company executives to the White House for the meeting as one step in his multipronged campaign to reduce gun violence in the wake of the weekend shootings that killed 31 people.

The president said he has asked the Justice Department to “work in partnership with local state and federal agencies, as well as social media companies, to develop tools that can detect mass shooters before they strike.”


We now live in a world where most of us have cellphones with cameras. We must use this to our advantage. We need a national phone line where people can report suspicious activity through calls and text messages.

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Would such an anti-violence hotline stop all future shooters? Sadly, it wouldn’t. But it would surely save some lives, and every life is precious. Like safety belts that save some lives – but not all – in car accidents, an anti-violence hotline could help reduce the tragic toll of deaths from the epidemic of gun violence that plagues our nation.

An anti-violence hotline would help harden soft targets and empower vigilant Americans to help keep our country safe.

Here’s how an anti-violence hotline would work:

  • A dedicated phone line would be operated by the National Counterterrorism Center. If we rely on 911 phone lines to local police, we might overwhelm them with potentially false leads. A separate alert number for this purpose must be established. Operators on the national line would, of course, contact local law enforcement when needed.
  • Staff on the hotline would have access to the FBI’s terrorist screening database and other criminal databases to quickly get information about people whose suspicious behavior has been reported.
  • If people see suspicious activity in public or their neighborhood, they could text a photo or video to the anti-violence hotline to enable our government to connect the dots to prevent an attack.
  • If people see suspicious social media activity they could text a screenshot to the National Counterterrorism Center.
  • If an attack takes place, people in the area could text photos, videos and other information to the anti-violence hotline. This would provide for true situational awareness and enable first responders to respond more quickly and effectively.
  • The hotline would be linked to Emergency Management Directorates in every state to ensure coordination with local law enforcement and first responders. 


In the aftermath of the weekend shootings, Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., announced bipartisan legislation this week to curb gun violence that would create a federal grant program to assist the states in adopting “Red Flag” laws. Such laws would help law enforcement intervene in situations where there is an imminent threat of violence.

The anti-violence hotline could provide law enforcement officials with vital information that would enable local law enforcement officials to identify potentially dangerous people who should have their guns temporarily taken away from them under “Red Flag” laws.

Graham and Blumenthal should be commended for the kind of bipartisanship we sorely need to help prevent future tragedies.

If an anti-violence hotline is created, social media companies would have a responsibility to work with the hotline, just as they already have a responsibility to work with officials at the local, state and federal level to assist in identifying people who use their platforms to spread hatred and encourage violence.

The White House meeting Friday is the perfect setting to discuss how to step up these vital lifesaving efforts.

Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney was right when he expressed his concern about the role social media play in terrorist attacks and other violence.

“We’ve given a wide audience to these people, we’ve made them celebrities, we’ve allowed them to spew their hate without any restrictions whatsoever,” Mulvaney said, referring to violent extremists.

“I am not saying we are going to regulate social media; I am saying we are going to have a broad-based discussion about the causes here,” Mulvaney added.

If an anti-violence hotline is created, social media companies would have a responsibility to work with the hotline, just as they already have a responsibility to work with officials at the local, state and federal level to assist in identifying people who use their platforms to spread hatred and encourage violence.

Social media companies are interested in cooperating. In a Washington Post op-ed earlier this year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg called for the government’s help to create new rules for the Internet.

Progress is already being made. Last month the FBI requested companies submit proposals to provide law enforcement with technology that could track social media of criminals and terrorists before they act.

The FBI request stated that “with increased use of social media platforms by subjects of current FBI investigations and individuals that currently pose a threat to the United States, it is critical to obtain a service which will allow the FBI to identify relevant information from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms in a timely fashion.”

This a step in the right direction and an example of another tool that can help prevent some future mass murders. The FBI must realize that the ingenuity and innovativeness it will need to pull this off will most likely come from small business, not big business. American small business should be engaged at the outset.

I first advocated for a hotline to combat violence in my book “The New Terrorism: How to Fight It and Defeat It.”

I got the idea for such a hotline following a 2011 terrorist attack in Norway. Some close friends of mine were friends of a teenage girl who was hiding in the bushes on Utøya Island during the rampage by Anders Breivik, who shot and killed 69 people at a youth summer camp after killing eight others by detonating a bomb in a van.

The attacker came within just a few feet of the teenage girl as she was hiding – she could hear him breathing. Fortunately, she was able to send out a tweet for local people to come help her. Locals were able to help the young campers before law enforcement arrived.

In my book I went back and looked at other terrorist attacks and how people at the scene used social media tools.

In 2008, during the Mumbai attacks that killed more than 100 people and wounded more than 300, the best information came from Mumbai residents using Twitter and Flickr (a photo-sharing site) to provide the latest coverage to others.

The power of social media was also one of the best lessons learned from the Boston Marathon bombing. Boston police used Facebook and Twitter to get the right information out to the people.

No one action will stop all terrorism or all murders. It will take a combination of a variety of measures to reduce the horrible death toll.


The anti-violence hotline is one such effective tool and its time has come. It can be established by presidential executive order, legislation by Congress, or the action of a forward-thinking government agency.

We have the technology and American ingenuity to make such a hotline a reality. It is time now to harness the full power of technology and social media to better protect our citizens and save lives.