Want to blame social media? Think ISIS, not Virginia.

August 28, 2015
A woman places flowers at a memorial outside of the offices for WDBJ7 in Roanoke

A woman places flowers at a memorial outside of the offices for WDBJ7 in Roanoke, Virginia, August 26, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Keane

All shootings are gruesome in their own way. But Wednesday’s killing of two television journalists in Roanoke, Virginia — while one was reporting on camera — represents a horrifying new twist on a rampaging gunman seeking notoriety.

In  the case of 41-year-old Vester Flanagan, the former on-air reporter at WDBJ-7, who gunned down his one-time colleagues, the “dark side of instant sharing,” as Wired described the tragedy, appears to have as much to do with an old school desire to “make it” on mainstream media than it does the scourge of social that some have blamed in the hours since the tragedy. Overlooked in the disgust over the Virginia gunman’s video posts of the shooting is the fact that both Twitter and Facebook suspended Flanagan’s account soon after he shared his video. CBS Evening News, along with several mainstream news sites, however, broadcast the footage. While CBS was the only network that made the decision to show Flanagan’s video, CNN was one of several cable channels to broadcast the on-air footage taken by the slain cameraman most of the day — which was, in all likelihood, Flanagan’s intent.

Contrast this with members of the Islamic State and other terrorists who have used social media to distribute shocking materials of bloodthirsty acts in order to gain notoriety and followers. Supporters of Islamic State have as many as 90,000 accounts on Twitter. The group is so good at harnessing social media that the United States’ counter-strategy pales in comparison. In a June memo obtained by the New York Times, State Department official Richard Stengel described Islamic State’s social media dominance: “When it comes to the external message, our narrative is being trumped by ISIL’s.”

Yet for members of Islamic State, social media is the most meaningful outlet  for building their base. The gruesome video-recorded beheadings of James Foley and other victims were mentioned — but not broadcast — on television news . The majority of the Islamic State’s violent activity remains in the domain of the Internet — where recruiting videos and propaganda spreads to disaffected youth and other vulnerable recruits around the world. Network and cable television has taken a hard line on disseminating what it sees as terrorist propaganda.

Flanagan had no such expectations. Trained in the news business, he understood how his message would spread across every conceivable medium — to both the horror and morbid curiosity of viewers.  Fired by the CBS affiliate in 2013, he appeared to be well schooled in the art of maximizing media attention. In the days before the killing, he prepared his Twitter account for a media onslaught, uploading photos from different stages of his life, likely in preparation for the personal narrative he imagined media outlets would want to tell. His self-recorded video looks like something out of a first-person shooter video game. He appeared to have a deep, and disturbing, understanding of what was needed to sell a story on and to television.

It wasn’t the first time that America was subjected to a madman’s manifesto after a killing spree. Back in 2007, when Virginia Tech student Seung-Hui Cho went on the deadliest shooting rampage in U.S. history, he made sure to mail his manifesto to NBC News. Videos of the gun-toting Cho, along with his written ramblings, instantly dominated the network news cycle, leaving the parents of his slain victims at first bewildered, and then enraged, that the gunman who’d killed their children would get the notoriety he so clearly craved.

Fast forward eight years and with social media in play, it was certainly easier for Flanagan to instantly provide television with the assets it needed for nonstop broadcasting of evil’s new face. But the end result was similar to Cho eight years ago, when Twitter was in its infancy and few media outlets had learned to scour Facebook for “stories” as it does now. Flanagan, like Cho, dominated the news cycle on television, regardless of the actions of social media networks to remove what they deemed offensive material.

Sadly, Flanagan probably also knew that as the television news cycle moves on to the next story, his deadly legacy would live on online. As of Thursday afternoon, a YouTube video of the shooting — one of many — had more than one million views.


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Posted by CNNpropaganda | Report as abusive

Flanagan was not a “rampaging gunman seeking notoriety”. His hits were selected and purposeful. He was a terrorist representing the fringe of black racism and the militant gay movement. According to his words, he wanted to incite racial hatred with these selective, premeditated hits.

Posted by sarkozyrocks | Report as abusive