Social media warning signs and how to respond

The Broward County Sheriff is calling the South Florida shooter’s social media posts “very very disturbing.” The apparent warning signs left by the mass shooting suspect beg the question, what can and should people do when they see similar posts on social media?

A YouTube comment by a user named “nikolas cruz” reads, “I’m going to be a professional school shooter.” It’s one of several social media posts raising eyebrows one day after Nikolas Cruz shot and killed 17 people at a south Florida school Wednesday.

When should you take social media posts seriously? And what should you do?

“That’s part of the problem, is that we take it so lightly," said Gabriel Hawkins, a student at University of Houston. "People make jokes about school shootings, so no one actually took him seriously.”

The suspected shooter also posted photos with a handkerchief covering his face and holding various guns.

Hawkins says he’s seen friends post similar content on social media.

 “Typically, especially if I know the person, I’ll like DM them or like send them a message like, hey are you ok? Like, you shouldn’t be saying stuff like that, you know?" said Hawkins. "And people will make a joke like the FBI is gonna come and find you."

In the Nikolas Cruz case, the FBI said Thusday they investigated the YouTube comment back in September but couldn’t confirm the identity of the person behind that username.

Dr. Asim Shah, Chief of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine, says some warning signs on social media should not be overlooked.

“Anytime you see somebody writing about hurting themselves, hurting anybody else, anytime somebody is writing about firearms, anytime somebody is writing about taking somebody’s life or their life, even if it’s in a joking way, that has to be taken very seriously,” Dr. Shah said.

Dr. Shah says if you see a friend’s tone change drastically for the worse on social media, try approaching them in person about it if you can.

“So you see people who are having these negative signs on posts to completely negative all the time, and what do you do?" asked Shah. "So if they are your friends and you say, let’s go and see a professional psychiatrist or psychologist, they may not necessarily listen to you,” Dr. Shah says.

But he says if someone posts a specific threat of violence, it’s best to contact law enforcement directly.

“If it’s an immediate threat, you can call 911," said assistant chief James Jones at Houston Police Department. "If somebody’s saying I’m gonna go to the school today and I’m gonna shoot the school up, blow the school up, go to a bank, whatever it is, that’s an immediate threat."

Jones says for non-immediate threats, you can call the Houston Police non-emergency number-- (713) 8840-311 --to report suspicious social media posts. You can fill out a form at this site: http://readyhouston.wpengine.com/suspicious-activity/make-the-call/

You can also report a threat directly to the FBI by sending a tip to tips.fbi.gov.

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