DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – Local experts say when it comes to online posts like photos of guns or violent comments – it’s not always easy to tell what’s really indicative of a looming threat and what’s not.
University of Dayton, law professor Thaddeus Hoffmeister explained being able to draw that distinction goes a long way in preventing violence.
“People say things all the time on social media that can be false or can be just bragging. How do you make that distinction,” Hoffmeister said. “When do you want to get the state involved? And that’s the challenge for law enforcement is that yes people make these claims but when is it an actual threat.”
Hoffmeister’s comments come as police in Florida dig deeper into the digital footprints of of the Parkland, Florida shooter.
Seventeen people were killed and several others were injured, after 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle.
Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel noted Cruz made several, threatening social media posts, in the past.
“If they see something on social media, if they see some graphic pictures of rifles and blood and gore and guns and bombs, if they see something, horrific language, a person talking about, I want to grow up to be a serial killer, we need to have the power to take that person and bring them before mental health professional at that particular time involuntarily and have them examined,” Israel said.
Hoffmeister, however, noted: “It’s easy, I think, after the fact to say: Oh, you should have connected the dots, you should have known, but he is one of millions of people online making comments.”
He said as social media continues to grow in popularity, he said it has changed the way police investigate crimes.
“Before when you had a crime scene, you dusted for fingerprints or for forensics. Well now, the first thing you do is you say, what’s in the person’s smart phone and what is on their social media account,” he said.