Guest post by John Hughes
On 24 May 2022, 18 year old Salvador Ramos shot and killed 19 students and 2 teachers at a school in Uvalde, Texas. Immediately, politicians, social media, and mass media clamored for gun control reform, some pundits even going as far as advocating for repeal of the 2nd Amendment. Beto O’Rourke interrupted a press conference and declared “This is on you until you choose to do something different,” O’Rourke said. “This will continue to happen. Somebody needs to stand up for the children of this state or they will be continue to be killed just like they were killed in Uvalde yesterday.”1 While guns were used in the massacre, their existence was quickly portrayed as the only concern in the matter. The same reaction followed almost every other shooting in the past decade. How an 18 year old high school dropout who worked a day shift at a fast food restaurant purchased what likely was over $3,000 worth of rifles, sights, and ammunition shortly after his 18th birthday is a great question to ask. However, another great topic to investigate is the social media factor.
Ramos threatened to kill and/or rape teenage girls on Yubo, a social media platform launched in 2015. At least one girl reported him to the Yubo administrators and nothing happened. A 2021 Pew Research Center Study reported nearly a third of US women reported being sexually harassed online.2 On the fateful day, Ramos posted 3 warnings of the attack on Facebook.
Facebook and other left leaning social media outlets have a propensity for amplifying anger and creating their own misinformation under the guise of censoring “misinformation.” For example, 2 days after the Kyle Rittenhouse shooting, Brian Fishman, a senior Facebook official and former director of its Dangerous Individuals and Organizations division said “Yesterday we designated the shooting as a mass murder and removed the shooter’s accounts from Facebook & Instagram. Per standard practice in these situations, we are also removing praise and support of the shooter and have also blocked searches of his name on our platforms.”3 The premature erroneous judgement remained in place until he was acquitted in court. Yet, Facebook still allows pages for Iran’s Ayatollah (despite threats to murder all Jews), BLM (despite months of rioting, billions in damage, dozens of deaths, and FBI investigations of corruption), Antifa (despite Congressional proposals to designate it as a terror organization), and many other known organizations that foment violence and crime. Clearly Facebook has bias.
Google and Apple famously removed Parlor as an app and the web platform was deactivated by AWS after the January 6, 2020 riots. Why hasn’t the same standard been applied to Facebook and Twitter? They should be been deplatformed punitively long ago for complicity in crime and murder by failing to examine algorithms that amplify anger and enabled psychotic behaviors. In 2018 Facebook internal memos expressed concerns that Facebook’s new algorithm which was designed to increase user interface with Facebook and other users (thereby increasing Facebook revenue) was also amplifying angry and violent themes4. Their formula gave anger five times the weighting of likes. In late 2021, whistleblower Frances Haugen revealed internal Facebook memos showing that teenage girls reported Instagram, owned by Facebook, to be making suicide and eating disorders worse. This is after Facebook CEO had testified in March 2021 that Facebook had removed content “that could lead to real world harm,” an obvious lie that contradicts internal memos Haugen presented5. Worse Zuckerburg created a “3rd Party Factchecker” with obvious bias due to its roots; its raison d’etre to defend Facebook’s actions from scrutiny by dismissing objections to its content.
A recent study by Kristina Lee sought to “specifically focus on social media activity and how the evolution of the tool has allowed for the amplification of mass shooting news and the subsequent effect on copycat behavior.”6 Although the study reported that Twitter was the most frequently used platform for mass murders’ posts, it is disheartening to hear of the social medial activity after nearly every mass shooting event in the Western World. Despite this revelation, there is little to no mainstream media, government, or public outcry to dissect how social media is amplifying anger and enabling psychological perversions on social media to progress to heinous deeds. Instead, the focus is almost always on banning guns and letting social media off the hook. How does this happen? Facebook and other social media outlets have considerable political sway and layers of insulation to protect themselves. For example, Factcheck.org only accepts corporate funding from Facebook and Google (left leaning corporate giants who control large portions of internet searches and social media). Factcheck.org is used by many news outlets to “debunk” myths on social media. The nepotism goes further: Factcheck.org brags that they received praised by Inside Philanthropy (another left leaning organization) for transparency7. Remember that left leaning social media gives hundreds of millions to democrat causes and candidates with a stated aim of attacking the 2nd Amendment.
The digital age with email, social media, and other virtual communication tools was supposed to bring people together and improve happiness. Instead it has also amplified anger and negative emotions and, combined with covid social distancing and lockdowns, intensified isolation, anxiety, and depression. Even before facebook, digital communication was giving rise to decreased civility and frankly people willing to say things that they would not normally say in person. Social media platforms make more money through increased subscriptions and usage. Emotional topics ‘trend’ more and are therefore financially lucrative to these companies and encouraged in their algorithms.
There is no doubt that digital social media has led to societal breakdown. What is worse is that the masters of the computer algorithms have knowingly made it worse. Investigations must be done to identify and criminally prosecute those that manipulated anger for profit. Class action lawsuits against social media giants should perhaps be initiated as well. Further, social media must be studied to change course from the ultimate evolution of the medium – isolation and loss of emotion and humanity. Social media itself doesn’t create mass murderers, but it certainly appears to give them the psychological ammunition to act on their darkest thoughts and commit murder. Beto is right; we must act to save our children. However the target is wrong. Guns are merely the tools used by the monsters created on social media platforms and their wealthy tech creators.
1Svitick, Patrick. “Beto O’Rourke confronts Texas Gov. Greg Abbott at Uvalde press conference: “This is on you.” The Texas Tribune. May 25, 2022.
2Foster-Frau, Sylvia, et al. “Before massacre, Uvalde gunman frequently threatened teen girls online.” The Texas Tribune. May 28, 2022.
3James, Clayton. “Facebook Reverses Kyle Rittenhouse Policy.” BBC.com 1 December 2021.
4Hagey, Keach and Jeff Horwitz. “Facebook Tried to Make Its Platform a Healthier Place. It Got Angrier Instead.” The Wall Street Journal. 15 September 2021.
5Pelley, Scott. “Whistleblower: Facebook is misleading the public on progress against hate speech, violence, and misinformation.” CBSNews.com 4 October 2021.
6Lee, Kristina. “Mass Shootings and Media Contagion Theory. Social Media’s Influence on the Frequency of Incidents.” Strategic Communications, Elon University, 2018.
John Hughes, MD