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GVSU terror expert discusses the role new media and virtual networks play into mass shootings


FBI Director James Comey says the Orlando nightclub shooter espoused support for a jumble of often-conflicting Islamic organizations. The attack left 49 club-goers dead. A local terrorism expert says two things have changed in the world of criminality and terrorism increasing the number of mass shootings.

“Once a crime is committed there are people, once they get word of that crime, who will start repeating the pattern. So, from a criminological analysis, that’s one of the things that’s happening.”

An increase in the number of copycat crimes. Professor Jonathan White is a terrorism expert and executive director of the Homeland Defense Initiative at Grand Valley State University.

“But in terms of terrorism another thing has happened and that’s a change in the media.”

White explains the delivery of print, TV and radio have changed.

“The new media is absolutely instantaneous. It’s controlled by the person making the release and it’s multiplied instantaneously by everyone who shares it.”

It’s not vetted and terror groups can use it for propaganda. White points out virtual networks have changed, too.

“With a social network you can two people in Sweden, a person in Italy a recruiter in Syria and a couple of people in Oregon and they become a reality network where somebody finally says, ‘OK we’re behind you. Go out and do it.’ That may have happened in this particular case, we don’t know yet and I don’t want to comment on the possible motivation behind this but that’s a question investigators are going to have to ask and it has a lot to do with the media. Was this person connected? How was this person connected? If the person is connected who were the connections? Was this an autonomous connection or was it controlled and those are investigative questions. By the way investigators are also learning that the new media can become a powerful investigative tool. If bad guys can use it so can the security people.”

Patrick Center, WGVU News.   

Patrick joined WGVU Public Media in December, 2008 after eight years of investigative reporting at Grand Rapids' WOOD-TV8 and three years at WYTV News Channel 33 in Youngstown, Ohio. As News and Public Affairs Director, Patrick manages our daily radio news operation and public interest television programming. An award-winning reporter, Patrick has won multiple Michigan Associated Press Best Reporter/Anchor awards and is a three-time Academy of Television Arts & Sciences EMMY Award winner with 14 nominations.