About two weeks ago we had another school shooting tragedy. Like so many in the past the suspect appears to have telegraphed online his evil madness prior to its eruption. The FBI was apparently notified of at least one of those posts prior to the act and acknowledged there was a breakdown of their response protocols. Unfortunately, one of the troubling aspects of these events is the occurrence of “copycats,” who either create similar evil posts or videos as “jokes” (NOT FUNNY) or worse as harbingers of their sinister destructive plans.
We were alerted by a concerned citizen to one of those copycat’s online rants almost immediately via our book’s Facebook page. They forwarded the troubling link seeking our assistance. (Important Note: Neither our Facebook page or this blog suggestions we investigate online crimes or take such reports). We strive to empower individuals through knowledge. We will give suggestions on how citizens might obtain the authorities’ assistance on cyber-malfeasance. We gave the citizen such suggestions and we have decided to share this advice to others who maybe find troubling posts online and want to make sure the proper officials are notified.
First thing we suggest is follow the advice of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Specifically,
contact your local law enforcement agency. Describe specifically what you observed, including:
Who or what you saw;
When you saw it;
Where it occurred; and
Why it’s suspicious
Who or What You Saw
IMPORTANT: The below advice includes taking screen shots or copying the material. This is not applicable to every situation. When dealing with online child abuse images don’t commit your own crime by copying the images or screen shooting the image. You can copy the URL but do not print, copy, etc. the images or videos. Make handwritten notes about where it was found, when (date, time, time zone) and who the posters identity. For more details on dealing with these kinds of material click on law enforcement. Additionally, Internet Service Providers will also take such reports. Google for instance has as such a system for reporting offensive images appearing on its site. They will forward it on to law enforcement as well.
What Did You See
Okay this is pretty self explanatory but as they say a picture is worth a 1,000 words. We suggest taking a screen shot of the troubling information (with the exception noted above). (For instructions on taking screen shots see Windows, Mac, Smartphone or do a Google search for “your specific device + Screenshot”). The below example uses our Facebook Group The Cyber Safety Guys to give you important focus areas. You likely will have to take several screen shots to make sure you get it all the information. Be aware where the screen shots are being saved as you are going to need that information later. If you can’t take screen shots, consider printing the material out. You also might take digital pictures of the material.
When You Saw it
Okay, so you have taken screen shots, printed it out, or taking digital pictures. Maybe it includes the date and time but maybe not. You need to document it when you saw it, i.e., date, time, and your time zone. If you have go “old school” do so and write it down.
Where It Occurred
Okay, DHS is talking about a place in the brick and mortar world. Sometimes a post will include information that reflects where the author is located or maybe their intended target. If you can ascertain that from the post, document it.
When we are in cyberspace we also need to provide an “address” of where it was seen. In our above image it is clear from the screen shot that it viewed on Facebook, particular as it includes the URL. However, don’t be happy with just saying Facebook. Get the entire address not just the domain name. Sometimes it is not so clear from the screen shot. Maybe it occurred in a chatroom or instant message. You might have to actually write it down if you can’t get the location documented in the screen shot. Again, be complete in your documentation. For instance, it was seen at date/time/time zone at this particularly cyber-location (specific complete URL, specific chat, specific instant message, etc.)
Why it’s Suspicious
We are dealing with posts, which might be a written, a picture, and/or video. Be prepared to describe why you believe it warrants action beyond just providing the screen shots. For instance, you saw the video and the person talks about shooting up something and is standing with a weapon. Don’t just rely on the screen shots you took. Provide an explanation of why you believe it is suspicious.
Okay, you have taken screen shots of everything. You have made notes of what you saw. Now it is time to report. Clearly if this is in your area and is an emergency, call 9–1–1. Explain what you saw, saved and why you think it warrants attention. Be prepared to provide copies of you screen shots, printouts, pictures and documentation to law enforcement, either electronically via e-mail or via a storage device.
Now lets suppose it is not in your area. It is out of state. Can you determine the area it is at? If so, contact the local law enforcement in that area (Do a Google search). Now don’t rely on communicating this kind of information via that local law enforcement’s social media site. Those sites aren’t always monitored. Don’t also rely on their e-mail or websites. Again, they might not be monitored 24-7. Call them.
Okay, you can’t determine where the post is from. What now? Contact the FBI. Okay, again, call them. They allow cybercrime to be reported online, but we are dealing with someone posting information about threats, harms, etc. This warrants a call. The FBI link above provided above will give you the telephone numbers to local FBI offices, which is the one you should call. They will forward up the chain to where it might go. Explain the situation and that you have screen shots, etc. to provide them.
Okay, you have attempted to notify law enforcement. Maybe you left a message or the line was busy or something. (The beauty of calling them is you know if your message got through. Posting via a website or email doesn’t mean a real person has got the information). What now? Look for information about the location where you saw the troubling information. For instance, in the above example it was Facebook. They have a security division and will take action on the post. Just because it is on their site doesn’t mean they are aware of it. Tell them about it. Be prepared to provide them copies of the screen shots and your information. They will document information on their side (which by the way is a lot more than what you are seeing. If they believe it apparent that there is a danger they also will directly contact the appropriate law enforcement agency foe their action. They also will likely remove the troubling post.
Cyberspace has made the world much smaller, making us all netizens with one another. Being good netizens requires us to take notice of smoking amiss, particularly if it means the potential of harm in the real world. So, if you see it report it! Take care and be safe out there.