Trump Calls On Social Media Companies To Become Pre-Crime Agents

from the paging-Tom-Cruise dept

Every time there are mass shootings in America, the public discourse disolves into a muck of tribal finger-pointing. We blame guns, video games, past Presidents, Congress, homosexuality, the decline of the nuclear family, mental illness, the internet, and on and on. Nothing gets done, no proposed solutions are adopted, and those proposed solutions gradually become all the more insane. The truth is more nuanced than can fit into a soundbite on some cable news program, but somehow the debates soaked in blood and grief never acknowledge this. If there is to be a sea change in the rate of incidents of mass violence in this country, this will have to change.

Or, if you’re President Trump, you just tell the same social media companies you’ve regularly railed against for being biased to be your pre-crime agents instead.

After two recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, President Trump said his administration would ask social media companies to develop tools that could detect potential mass shooters.

While delivering a speech on the recent violence, Trump said “we must do a better job of identifying and acting on early warning signs,” and he suggested social media companies could develop new ways of catching “red flags.”

“I am directing the Department of Justice 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,” Trump said in the speech.

This is one of those things that, to the lay person, sounds reasonable. It isn’t. Being in the industry of corporate IT services, I find myself far too often informing business owners that I cannot solve their Human Resources problems with technology. This is similar: we aren’t going to solve the nuanced problem of mass shootings by throwing technology at it.

And we should know that by now. All kinds of law enforcement agencies have engaged in so-called “predictive policing” and it’s been routinely discussed just how problematic these practices are. Traditionally, these programs have involved feeding algorithms historical crime data in order to get a sense of where that data suggests more violent crime will take place and by whom. If you don’t already see the problem with that, you don’t know the history of how justice has been meted out differently among the masses in America. The problem here isn’t the machine or the algorithm, but the human decisions that go into the data that is feeding that algorithm.

In the case of social media companies partnering with law enforcement to do this sort of behavioral pre-crime, the problems will be all the worse. Algorithms aren’t great at nuance, nor are they good at such subtleties as humor, embellishment, vernacular, and different cultural norms. People talk to each other, and post on social media, in different ways. The number of folks that will be caught up for otherwise innocent behavior, garnering visits from law enforcement worried that they will be shooting up their local big box store, is going to be enormous.

And that would be the case even if Trump had an actual plan rather than these vague proclamations, which he very much does not.

While the president did not specify what those “tools” might look like, Trump seemed to be suggesting that companies could use predictive software to single out potential shooters based on their activity on a platform. Crucially, this would mean taking action before a person commits violent crimes. Data-mining tools are in wide use, but creating a detection system for violence would inevitably raise a host of privacy and accountability issues.

In other words, this is pablum designed to distract the public from the fact that he isn’t talking about any interests he wants to protect in the debate on mass shootings. It’s meaningless foot-shuffling, rather than anything resembling an actual plan.

GOP responses to the shootings writ large has ranged thus far from “video games are evil!” to “nerd harder, social media!” Whatever those stances are, they are most certainly not agents of change.

Filed Under: , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Trump Calls On Social Media Companies To Become Pre-Crime Agents”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: State Actor

So what should be be doing about the Border Patrol agents who joked about raping and killing members of Congress? Aren’t these the Red Flags the nerds would be finding?

No, no, no! Not those red flags!!! You know… the other red flags to indicate a person is a problem… the "brown" flags wink wink

David says:


Algorithms aren’t great at nuance, nor are they good at such subtleties as humor, embellishment, vernacular, and different cultural norms.

Neither are humans. That’s why it is problematic when people like President Trump claim that it’s somebody else’s responsibility when stupid people interpret his words to mean exactly what he is intending to convey.

This situation calls for fewer idiots, not more idiots. And preferably not just on the receiving end of communication but also on the speaking end. A pity that the U.S. political system relies on making education and sanity a luxury article and then riling up the uneducated masses.

The quality of democratic elections depends on the quality of both the voters and the level of corruptibility a political system promotes with regard to rewards and determents.

And the U.S. stinks in both regards.

Anonymous Coward says:

President Trump said his administration would ask social media companies to develop tools that could detect potential mass shooters.

Shouldn’t detecting potential mass shooters be a job for the police? Noting that they have access to the social media sites, why are they failing in this task?

Even better would be for the police to repair their relationships with their communities, and especially the poor communities.

Also, this is typical modern politics, look at ways of controlling people, rather than tackle the real social issues that cause people to go postal.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Do you have any idea how disastrous what you are proposing would be? Do you have the slightest notion what would be entailed to turn every cop into a psycholigist and how many man hours it would take to put one cop on every one human being in an impossible attempt to collect every outrage and predict every outcome? Don’t even give them ideas like this.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

And do what?

Isn’t Trump complaining about how social media goes about content moderation? Isn’t he saying that conservatives are being disproportionately kicked off social media platforms for their political views, rather than the TOS violations the platforms claim? What makes him think they could do this any better? New algorithms? As Tim mentioned, technology cannot solve human resource issues.

Now, Trump trusts the social media platforms to be able to discern who might become a mass killer (there are more than one ways to kill, let’s not give up on the others). And what will be done?

They could kick the ‘potential offender’ off their platform, but as with the supposed sex traffickers that would take information away from authorities, not to mention that there is probably nothing in the TOS about being…well let’s call it obtuse.

They could notify the police, but at that point no crime has been committed and there is a certain reputation for the police answering 911 calls with loaded and drawn weapons, not to mention shooting first and talking later.

I cannot think of another action that could be taken by social media platforms, and those two don’t make any sense. Even if they were carefully and scrupulously applied, I doubt that anything Trump doesn’t want would stop, but there might be a few more people being ostracized and accused for things only someone elses imagination perceives. That is, unless they have acted.

To Trump, and a bunch of other politicians, something must be done, and any crazy, unworkable, ineffective, and very possibly unconstitutional solution they come up with is something.

Anonymous Coward says:


Please consider all of the hateful and/or anger filled that doesn’t result in mass shootings and disaster… are the two related? possibly, but that doesn’t mean that one guarantees the other.
Another thing that all the folks committing these horrible acts have in common… They breathe air, so better start keeping an eye on people that do that too.

ECA (profile) says:

One group. Which group?

1 group wants Total freedom of matter what.
(mostly cause some of the idiocy on there side gets edited)
1 group wants the Social media groups and forums to Erase the realities of the World…FOR THE KIDS..

Seems there isnt much Middle ground.
Except..Get the create its OWN section or LET a ‘NO TOUCH’, site be created.. And let the TROLLS begin.
Watch both Sides create fantasy’s based on what OTHERS have expressed to them over years and years, with very little Historical or facts involved and LETS see what happens..

What comes after history books that REALLY dont give any facts,except those of the author.

David says:

Re: Re:

And how exactly will conservatives react to in addition to being censored, being flagged as mass shooters?
More complaining?

No, more mass shootings. By the way, the American use of "conservatives" to mean right wing tip lunatics and "liberals" to mean right wing lunatics is a bit confusing to foreigners who use those terms outside of invectives.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Something happened in US politics around 1950. Bigots and racists used to be all democrat until Roosevelt’s "New Deal". At which point they all left the dems for the republicans…who were all too eager to make some "minor" alterations to the social parts of their definition of "conservatism".

The definitions for "liberal", "conservative", "right" and "left" are just some of the collateral victims to the massive shitstorm of apologism and windsocking required to suddenly shoehorn most of the politically active racists into the party they’d opposed for centuries.

ECA (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The only reasons to ONLY have 2 groups to choose…

Go to any other democratic nation.
There are more then 2 groups, generally there are 4-5-6 groups at least. They REALLY bicker and fight. Even the English parliament makes OURS look like WIMPS.

The politicians changed the rules back in the Early 80’s by giving themselves WAGES and BENEFITS.. This is an HONOR job. its NOT FOR PROFIT..
Some one is passing around an old idea. CUT their wages or get Rid of wages and benefits.
These guys are Kings now. and we have little recourse as to what they are doing.

If you want Conspiratorial..
Its a FAMILY business.
Most started from the east coast and went west when they couldnt get into ANY state offices(to many politicians).
They start Early, in county and state. And have made it rather hard for regular people to Even try to get into office.(cant compete with the money)
Many have gone threw this so fast to get into Federal offices, that they dont know Anything about whats happening. (would love to get their College grades, all of them)

Good luck folks.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

"Aren’t liberals left wing nuts?"

Like Eisenhower, you mean? Yep. apparently they are.

The US body politic embraced newspeak with a vengeance roughly around 1950 and ever since it’s become the norm for politicians to toss the dictionary right out the window.

In most places in europe at least someone raises an eyebrow if someone tries to shoehorn outright fascist legislation under the heading of a "liberal agenda" or drop tax cuts for the wealthy in under a "socialist" banner.

In the US you can type out any given speech made by Trump and find that on reading it you literally can not make sense of it in plain english. That’s how bad the state of politics has become.

Anonymous Coward says:

Problem with demographics

There is a problem with demographics and disparate impact.

If the federal government can’t be psychic about potential problems, even with the aid of background checks, how is social media supposed to figure it out– without background checks? It would turn into a witch hunt.

"African Americans and Hispanics are arrested, convicted and incarcerated at rates disproportionate to their share of the general population."

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Problem with demographics

"African Americans and Hispanics are arrested, convicted and incarcerated at rates disproportionate to their share of the general population."

This is next to meaningless if African Americans and Hispanics commit the same proportion of crimes as their arrest rate. I see the document you posted doesn’t go into that little detail despite the easily misinterpreted claim you quoted.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Problem with demographics

It is interesting how more arrests happen in areas that are heavily policed compared to those areas that are not policed at all. One might assume that one could then extrapolate some meaningful conclusions from this data … but the conclusion is only as good as the underlying data, the assumptions, how said data was obtained and manipulated.

bobob says:

Trump doesn’t need to say anything reasonable or that makes sense. As long as it sounds good to his base and it motivates them to vote for him, that is all that matters. Come to think of it, if he did suggest something that made sense, his base would not understand it. Politicians (and Trump in particular) are in the business of selling bullshit which appeals to people’s emotions, not their brains.

Anonymous Coward says:

The stranger

I was doing lookout duty when I first saw him. Immediately, I knew there was going to be a mass shooting, that many people were going to die very soon.

This stranger had a rifle over his shoulder. You could tell he took good care of it. It looked like he’d even customized it… a lot. But that isn’t that strange. The second amendment permits people to carry guns openly. You can’t SEE if they have a license, but that would be a civil violation, not a sign he intended to slaughter folks.

Nor yet was it the camouflage clothing that he wore, or what looked like body armor. After all, the state patrol wears body armor, and you don’t (usually) accuse them of mass murder-to-be.

No, it was when I saw the Pip-boy on his arm that I realize that as a no-name mook raider, I was going to breathe my last unless I got the heck out of there, right then. And because I did, I alone survived to tell the tale.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: The stranger

"No, it was when I saw the Pip-boy on his arm that I realize that as a no-name mook raider, I was going to breathe my last unless I got the heck out of there, right then. And because I did, I alone survived to tell the tale."

Ironic as that is, a Fallout 4 gameplay narrative would probably hit 10 out of 10 flags for any algorithm screening for burgeoning rampage killers-to-be.

So would most action movie reviews.

Anonymous Coward says:

Funny thing about our current laws. You can’t actually arrest someone until after a crime has been committed.

Let’s assume (lol) that they successfully create this "pre-crimes" unit and can detect future mass shooters or other criminals with a good degree of accuracy (lol). What do they propose will then happen to John Shooter before he has committed any crime?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I assume that they haven’t actually thought that one out fully and probably haven’t come to that inevitable conclusion.

If pressed and asked about that, their reply will probably be something along the lines of that they’ll be able to have someone or some group intervene and get that person help. But forcing someone to get help like that is also against the law in most cases, and there’s no guarantee that they would be willing to talk to someone or if they did, actually listen and take what they have to say to heart.

Anonymous Coward says:

"We blame guns..."

You Americans are so funny. "We blame guns" No you don’t (at least, not anyone with the power or will to change things).

In Australia, we had a mass shooting 20-odd years ago. We blamed guns. We got rid of (some of) them, and restricted or controlled the remainder. (Spoiler alert: no more mass shootings since).

In New Zealand, they had a mass shooting recently. They blamed guns. It took them 6 days to do something about it.

That doesn’t mean guns are the only factor in the shootings, but they have been involved in 100% of mass shootings. Those politicians purchased by the NRA contort themselves into a Klein bottle to avoid blaming guns.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: "We blame guns..."

"That doesn’t mean guns are the only factor in the shootings, but they have been involved in 100% of mass shootings. Those politicians purchased by the NRA contort themselves into a Klein bottle to avoid blaming guns."

Only if we focus on "mass shootings" – which, needless to say, involve guns to 100%.

Rampage killings however, is an age-old global phenomenon. It always involves an individual pressured beyond the point of snapping who then proceeds to plan and carry out a mass execution using whatever weapon is available.

Without guns you still retain about the same amount of rampages. Carried out with blades, motor vehicles, etc. And as we’ve seen quite often the tragedy caused by a truck speeding into a marketplace crowd is worse by far than the lunatic on top of the water tower with a rifle.

I think licensing gun ownership is a good idea, but the ease of legal access to guns has exactly ZERO to do with the prevalence of people deciding to have themselves a good old murder party.
Gun control and rampage killings are two entirely different debates. Something both sides conveniently ignore since it makes for a handy political hobbyhorse catering to the long-held beliefs of their respective constituents.

The US has some serious problems with a minority underclass literally born to lose and a mental health baseline service with fails to deliver anything more than heavy medication. You don’t need to go further to spot the reason why there are more rampage killers in the US than elsewhere.

Jeremy Lyman (profile) says:

Re: Re: "We blame guns..."

Access to a machine designed to kill 30 people in 30 seconds has direct effect on the efficacy of those who decide to rampage kill. Don’t tell me that guns have no effect, there is a reason our current epidemic is with assault-style rifles and not speeding trucks in pedestrian thoroughfares.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: "We blame guns..."

"Access to a machine designed to kill 30 people in 30 seconds has direct effect on the efficacy of those who decide to rampage kill. Don’t tell me that guns have no effect, there is a reason our current epidemic is with assault-style rifles and not speeding trucks in pedestrian thoroughfares."

It makes things easier, no doubt. It still isn’t a relevant argument in the US.

  • Removing access to said machine is expressly prohibited by the US constitution, so any attempt to do so will fail until you rewrite the second amendment.
  • There is no "assault-style" rifle epidemic. What you’ve got is semi-auto rifles. For removal of which, see my first point.
  • That speeding trucks and vehicles in general aren’t in a far higher priority is, to me, absurd. I can only say that if you don’t have as big a beef with traffic enforcement as you do with guns then that’s a problem on your side.

Now, for the record I’m in favor of licensing when it comes to firearms ownership. The same way we at least want a driver to first demonstrate they are capable of following traffic laws and responsible use of a car we should all demand that any presumtive owner of a firearm should be taught and tested on responsible use.

In the US any such restriction actually found effective will be overturned by SCOTUS as long as the second amendment exists in its current form.

So until you have a viable shot at the second amendment, don’t even waste your efforts trying to "control" guns in the US. It won’t work.

Fixing the social mechanisms which cause so many people to snap and go on a murder spree…now there, at least, you have a viable shot, even if it’ll face incredible opposition from the anti-medicare crowd et al.

What I’m telling you is that if you want that pig to fly you either build a catapult first or strap it to a big enough balloon. Just pushing it saying "Flap those hoofs already" ain’t gonna cut it.

Jeremy Lyman (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 "We blame guns..."

Regulating types of weapons is not unconstitutional. It is political. With every one of these mass-murders the tide is turning.
(in case you don’t read that, the ban survived all constitutional challenges and politicians chose not to renew it.)

I wrote "style" just for you because you seem like the kind of person who would call me ignorant because "assault weapon isn’t a definition!" There are all kinds of metrics by which we can regulate weapons. Cyclic rate, muzzle velocity, and magazine size would be a good start. I’d be fine with just banning all semi-auto rifles and let sportsmen prove their skill with bolt-action. So maybe the gun enthusiasts should take a stab at defining what characteristics create an assault weapon and what licensing requirements gun owners need to fulfill. Right now there’s a big vacuum of responsible firearm advocates.

We absolutely try to lower traffic fatalities; by regulating vehicles, drivers, and the places where driving occurs. This isn’t even an argument. We have entire agencies devoted to preventing/tracking deaths and investigating the circumstances when there are failures in our transportation system; the vast vast vast majority of which are unintentional. You mentioned it as an alternate option for rampage killers; but they have access to cars now and they’re choosing the superior murder machines in droves.

I agree on licensing, but I’ll raise you a national registry and mandatory insurance requirements.

Toom1275 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 "We blame guns..."

Cyclic rate, muzzle velocity, and magazine size would be a good start

[Asserts facts not in evidence]

Especially since I recall politicians who wrote some of those shitheaded magazine size laws admitting they knew that they were writing "do-something" fluff to appease the idiot masses, that would provide zero benefot to mass shootings in return for only harming good citizens.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: "We blame guns..."

You very easily blame guns when you don’t realize that only one fucknut hellbent on killing a huge swath of the public from a ratio standpoint of fucknuts willing to do that to the entire population is maybe around 1: 200,000,000. Meanwhile your government WITH PLEASURE Disarms a huge population of law abiding citizens who perhaps stood between that government and complete tyranny against you and yours. Their brainwashing techniques are very sneaky. You should not be so gullible to listen to your national news media.

Dave P. says:

New laws needed.

Looking at this from the other side of the pond, it would seem to me that outright gun control laws are badly needed but ol’ Trumpy boy won’t go for it, as it appears that he (and possibly other so-called politicians as well) might be in the pocket of the NRA. Always shies away from any suggestion of an outright ban – it’s always the human who pulls the trigger that’s the problem, according to Trump’s law. Poppycock.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...