Guns don't kill people, social media does - Denny Scott editorial
New York’s Attorney General Letitia James will be investigating some social media services for the part they may have played in the devastating shooting that took place in Buffalo, just over the border, on May 14.
The horrific incident of the day is one that, unfortunately, won’t be remembered long by the world at large, thanks to the sheer amount of gun violence that happens in the United States, but it will always be notable for the fact that there is no question about what caused it: guns and the radicalization of already-racist people.
And while most of the world may be behind that, James seems to think that the internet is to blame.
This isn’t me defending the internet, this is me asking when we are going to just hold people accountable? It doesn’t matter which technological era we live in, people are always quick to blame something other than the people involved. Take Columbine, for example. The Columbine High School massacre took place just over 23 years ago and while the gunmen were blamed, everyone wanted to spread that blame to someone or something that had little to do with the shooters acquiring guns or pulling the trigger.
There were plenty of mental health pressures in play, which we now know, nearly a quarter-century later, can lead to people like the gunmen feeling they have no way out. They faced school-wide bullying and embarrassment and were driven further and further into isolation by people who did nothing about it.
However, instead of addressing the causes of the problem (the widespread bullying, the alleged ignorance of said bullying and gun culture) many media organizations, politicians and even church leaders were quick to point the finger at everything but the United States’ love affair with firearms and casual acceptance of bullying.
From rockstar Marilyn Manson to video games to the gunmen’s (erroneously identified) sexual identities, everything except the people who could be responsible were blamed for these two young men killing other people.
I’m not going Bowling for Columbine here (though Michael Moore and I both do enjoy wearing red hats) - everything played a part in the development of the gunmen and their decision, including, yes, video games and the music they listened to (however it was later revealed they didn’t think too highly of Manson).
The missing factor here, however, is choice. They chose to do this and no one is responsible for that except them. Every other factor can be tied to millions of people who don’t do what they did.
Every time there is another one of these horrifying incidents (which happen far too frequently) where the perpetrators either end their own lives or are killed, people look for a reason but ignore the agency of the people involved. That doesn’t seem to be such a problem when the gunmen are taken alive, but once they're dead, apparently people need a reason beyond, “They woke up and chose to be evil that day.”
So, just like the media, politicians and churches wanted to blame video games and music alone for the Columbine shooter’s actions, James is now looking into how social media enabled the Buffalo shooter to “discuss and amplify his intentions and acts”.
What’s next? Are we going to string up Alexander Graham Bell’s descendants because of the role that telephones play in planning crimes? Or how about Steve Jobs’ surviving family - I’m sure iPhones (and the other smart devices that follow) are used in crime all the time. Actually, while we’re at it, maybe we should see if Al Gore still feels responsible for the internet, and investigate him for every crime that has occurred on or been enabled by the world wide web. Are we going to try and find everyone related to Johannes Gutenberg to blame them for any crime that involved the printed word?
The simple fact is that communication technology, and the companies behind it, aren’t responsible for how individuals use them. Sure, an argument can be made for trying to prevent companies or nations from using social media to unduly influence an election, but, unless we want to have a party line with the government whenever we’re communicating in any way but face-to-face conversation, there’s no way to blame or control communications companies or websites.
We’re not talking about organizations that are actively trying to avoid law enforcement or flagrantly break rules, we’re talking about groups that are using technology to give people a way to connect. Yes, there will be bad actors who will try to use any technology to nefarious ends, but that’s just human nature. There will always be bad actors.
The reality is that any crackdown on one platform will just send those with a nefarious agenda to another social media platform and there are dozens of them out there. That game of digital Whac-A-Mole will never end. So instead of focusing on how people are talking about or even broadcasting their crimes, maybe our southern neighbours should focus on just being kinder to one another. I’d love to say that’s a lesson they could take from us, but it’s one many Canadians seem to have forgotten in this day and age as well.