Mass shootings unveil some dangers to social media


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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Authorities said the El Paso gunman posted an extremist and hate-filled manifesto online before the shooting.

Minutes before, the gunman appeared to have revealed his plans on social media. He posted a hate-filled manifesto on 8chan — an online forum with few rules or oversight.

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The site is now shut down, at least temporarily.

The creator said he regrets ever put the site together.

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“We’re definitely in uncharted waters,” tech expert Paul Sponcia said.

Sponcia, who’s the CEO of The IT Company in Knoxville, said 8chan and other social media platforms have created a space on the internet where unintended consequences are very real.

“Especially when you combine not just the social media platform–the ability to put something out there, but the technology and the behind the scenes that curating and developing and learning your behaviors,” Sponcia said.

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He said if you search out hateful websites, the social media algorithms can recycle that and reinforce negative behavior.

“Kind of, replaying the same voices over and over again,” Sponcia said.

And he said those voices often gain strength because the of the anonymity and lack of accountability social media provides.

“Anytime you’re taking a position, or someone’s taking a position, it just seems like it’s easier to be emotional,” Sponcia said.

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That’s why Sponcia said you should vary what you consume online.

“It’s important to be open to ideas maybe that you don’t agree with,” Sponcia said. “Because again, if that’s all you hear, that’s all you agree with after a while.”

Sponcia said if you’re worried about social media using your data, you can protect yourself.

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“Inside of Facebook and Amazon and Twitter and Instagram and whatever other platforms you’re on, I would just pay a lot of attention to some of the privacy settings,” Sponcia said.

Some people on social media are just out to get a rise out of you.

Sponcia said to deal with what are sometimes called trolls — just be kind back, and it usually works.

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