Driving to work this morning I was listening to the radio. The radio announcer said that the police have yet to identify the shooter in yesterday’s attack at Dawson College in Montreal but reports are out there identifying him. I missed the name they said on the radio, but I did catch this part (and I’m paraphrasing here):
The man rumored to be the killer had a blog where he displayed pictures of himself with guns and knives. In his blog he wrote things like, “I want to go down in a blaze of bullets.” Two hours before the shooting he wrote his last post where he talked about drinking whiskey…
I don’t know if the man the radio announcer named is the killer. I don’t know if the killer really had a blog, or wrote the blog the announcer was referring to. But, listening to the radio I couldn’t help but think, “If this guy is the killer, he was putting it all out there. He was openly saying ‘I’m heavily into guns, knives and violence. I’m unhappy, frustrated and deeply troubled. PAY ATTENTION TO ME!‘“
(Incidentally, while perusing the blogosphere for news about the Dawson College shooting, I came across a link to the apparent killer’s blog. Here it is.)
A public blog is always a public statement. Whether it’s just for your family and friends, or you want the entire world to see what you write (which is most often the case), it’s a way of expressing yourself publically.
This guy was putting himself out there.
So this leads me to a couple questions:
- Should police monitor the blogosphere for this sort of content? I recognize the myriad of potential issues (lack of time / resources, what to do with the information, etc.) but the police are patrolling the Internet for child porn-related crimes…And, with a bit of technology (some of which already exists – as simple as Technorati Watchlists or Google) you could probably start to collect data and content on local blogs with certain keywords, phrases or topics.Maybe they already do this (I’m sure agencies like the FBI/CIA/CSIS do plenty of monitoring for terrorist activities, etc.) but I doubt it’s happening at a local level to the extent that it could be.
- Does the public have a responsibility to patrol the blogosphere? I’m all for free speech, but there are consequences to every action…and I wonder if, as a community, we have a responsibility to patrol what’s going on out there. Maybe we don’t all need watchlists monitoring every possible crazy person, but if this guy did have a blog someone was reading it.More than anything, people need to recognize the signs of someone that’s troubled and might need help (or containment.) If there’s a blog, there’s a reader. That reader (unless he’s in on it with the blogger) needs to recognize a potential problem and alert authorities.
- Can’t we develop technology to do a better job of monitoring things like blogs to help the authorities? This is really tertiary in my mind, but I can’t help but think we (as entrepreneurs, technologists, etc.) could find a way of supplying authorities with suitable technology and perhaps manpower + skill to help them monitor the blogosphere. This is just a tiny seed of a thought in my head, nothing more than that…but it makes me think…we can take our public responsibility one step further and develop technology that helps the police do what they need to do. Remember: the blogosphere is a public place, so I have few concerns about privacy here.
At the end of the day, part of what makes something like this so tragic is that it’s not preventable. Anyone can walk into almost any building (hospital, school, university, office tower) and start shooting. That’s frightening and frustrating. If there are ways of monitoring the blogosphere to find people who are “asking for help” I think that deserves discussion and serious attention.
I received an email today from Leah Maclean in Australia asking me if I was OK. I am. Dawson College is about a 5-minute walk from my office; fairly close hitting but far enough. I spent the entire day listening to the radio and cop cars speeding by.
Still, things like this have a way of hitting very close to home. My son’s daycare provider had a son stuck in the College for hours, communicating sporadically by cellphone.
When the incident broke out I sent a chat message to a friend who didn’t know what was going on. He was 2 blocks away from the mayhem.
So things like this have a way of hitting very close to home…my thoughts are with everyone involved at Dawson yesterday. By all accounts the police acted swiftly and effectively, as did other emergency personnel. It’s going to take awhile for the city to pull itself back together, but it will. This is Montreal.
If you want to read some other people’s thoughts, here you go: