Tashfeen Malik, the woman shooter in San Bernadino, is the latest in a growing line of extremists and disturbed killers who have used social media to punctuate their horrific violence, the Associated Press reports. A Facebook official said Malik, using an alias, praised the Islamic State in a Facebook post shortly before or during the attack. Malik’s posting echoes similar bids for attention by violent perpetrators, including a disgruntled Virginia broadcaster who recorded himself shooting two co-workers and then posted the video online and a Florida man who killed his wife and shared a photo of her body on social media. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media companies try to remove posts that glorify violence. Experts say it’s an uphill battle, and the advent of new services that let people stream live video from any event will only make the task more challenging.
“Now everyone has the opportunity to talk to a larger audience,” said Karen North, a professor of digital social media at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School. “If you commit an act and you want people to know about it, you now have a way to promote it.” Social media didn’t invent extremist violence. The Islamic State and similar groups have become deft at using social media to spread their message, both to recruit followers and to threaten their perceived enemies. “They can rapidly and easily identify others who share their beliefs,” said Marcus Thomas, a former FBI official. Facebook bans content shared by “dangerous organizations” engaged in terrorist activity or organized crime. That requires a judgment call, because not everyone around the world defines terrorism in the same way, said David Greene of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.