Social media poses challenge in determining realistic threats - KSBY.com | San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Area News

Social media poses challenge in determining realistic threats

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Social media platforms pose a new challenge for law enforcement, schools, parents, and more.  In the wake of mass shootings and the social media trail left behind, the question is - when should other users take the "see something, say something" approach.

"People say all sorts of things and the bar gets lower and lower for what is okay to say on social media," said Dr. Rob Clayton, Licensed Clinical Psychologist.

Keyboard warriors hide behind screens to leave threatening or fearful words on social media, but the line between empty comments and true intention is very fine.

"Until it gets to a level of 'wow, this person really seems imminently dangerous,' which is a very hard thing to judge, then there's nothing we can do," Dr. Clayton explained.

Clayton says almost everyone experiences violent impulses, but there are times, like when users make homicidal statements on social media, that require attention.

"In most circumstances, if someone is making those kinds of verbalizations frequently, it's worth encouraging them to get seen by a mental health clinician or letting someone in authority know," Dr. Clayton said.

But for untrained professionals, knowing when to intervene is a challenge.  

"There's just crazy stuff all over Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, whatever, so you never know if someone is serious about something or if they're just saying they're mad," said Cal Poly graduate Alex Glasenapp.

For social media users like Glasenapp, negative content has become the norm.

"People are desensitized. It's kind of sad, actually," he said.

Peers, like fellow Cal Poly graduate Lawrence Ho, agree. 

"You can say that kind of stuff so there's no fear in saying those crazy things," Ho said.

When asked if they would report threatening or homicidal posts or thoughts, both young men said "yes." 

"I would report that, yeah.  I would talk to my friends to see if we could get together and talk to the person that posted that or just contact some sort of authority that can handle them," Ho explained.

Dr. Clayton says research has shown it is very difficult to prove who has true intent to harm and whose intent is just to scare others when making threatening social media posts.

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