Trump calls on DOJ to work with social media companies to identify mass shooters

Trump calls on DOJ to work with social media companies to identify mass shooters
© Aaron Schwartz

President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy Official testifies that Bolton had 'one-on-one meeting' with Trump over Ukraine aid Louisiana governor wins re-election MORE on Monday called for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to work closely with social media companies to identify potential mass shooters in remarks that largely focused on how technology can enable real-world violence.

During a speech in which the president condemned white supremacy and hatred following two mass shootings this weekend in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, Trump said the internet plays an important role in radicalizing mass shooters.

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The alleged 21-year-old shooter in El Paso allegedly posted an anti-immigrant manifesto to fringe social networking platform 8chan shortly before he killed 21 people and injured dozens more on Saturday. This is the third mass shooting in which suspects are believed to have posted hateful content to 8chan before committing murders this year.

"The shooter in El Paso posted a manifesto online consumed by racist hate," Trump said. "We must recognize that the internet has provided a dangerous avenue to radicalize disturbed minds and perform demented acts." 

"We must shine light on the dark recesses of the internet and stop mass murders before they start," he said. "The perils of the internet and social media cannot be ignored and they will not be ignored."

He announced that he is directing the Justice Department "to work in partnership with local, state and federal agencies as well as social media companies to develop tools that can detect mass shooters before they strike."

Echoing other Republican lawmakers who have spoken out in the days since the shooting, Trump also directed some of the blame for violence in the country toward video games, despite researchers concluding that they likely do not directly cause young people to become more violent.

Scientific studies have been unable to identify a link between violent video games and violent behavior. But lawmakers and officials have continued to call for a crackdown on video games in the wake of mass shootings.

Following of the Parkland, Fla., shooting last year, Trump argued that video games can inspire violence in the real world. Shortly after, the president met with representatives of the video game industry and critics of video game violence to hear their concerns. 

"We must stop the glorification of violence in our society," Trump said on Monday. "This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace." 

The Entertainment Software Industry, the video game industry’s top lobbying arm, said in a statement that others countries that also enjoy video games "do not contend with the tragic levels of violence" seen in the U.S.

“More than 165 million Americans enjoy video games, and billions of people play video games worldwide," the statement to The Hill said. "Yet other societies, where video games are played as avidly, do not contend with the tragic levels of violence that occur in the U.S." 

The shooting in El Paso was followed by another mass shooting early Sunday morning in Dayton, which left nine people dead and almost 30 injured. Investigators are still looking into the shooter's motives.

"It is too easy today for troubled youth to surround themselves with a culture that celebrates violence," Trump said. "We must stop or substantially reduce this and it has to begin immediately." 

The remarks come as the president has continued to attack the country’s top social media companies including Twitter, Google, YouTube and Facebook, which he claims are biased against conservatives.

Trump has pledged that he will take action against the companies and held a “social media summit” earlier this year dedicated to criticizing their conduct. None of the companies were invited to the event.

Trump himself has come under fire for stoking racial tensions, as he has often warned of an invasion by immigrants and spoken against immigration from Mexico. Both themes were the centerpiece of the 8chan manifesto posted on Saturday.  

The shooting in El Paso has raised larger questions about the role of fringe social media networks, such as 8chan, in enabling violence. The Anti-Defamation League has referred to those websites as “round-the-clock white supremacist rallies,” pointing out they can act as a breeding ground for extremist ideologies.

On Sunday, the head of Cloudflare — the U.S. company that helps keep 8chan online — said his company will stop hosting the fringe online platform known for supporting white supremacists.

--Updated at 4:15 p.m.