LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Vester Flanagan is not the first gunman to use social media to spread his message of hate, but he is the first to record a murder and then post the video online.
He also live tweeted as police moved in. Flanagan shot and killed himself after crashing his vehicle.
KCAL9’s Kristine Lazar looks at the social media component of Wednesday’s tragic murders.
While friends and family mourn the loss of reporter Alison Parker, 24, and cameraman Adam Ward, 27, millions more have gone to social media to try to make sense of the shocking act.
In a recently created Twitter and Facebook accounts, Flanagan, who worked as a reporter at WDBJ, a CBS affiliate, under the name Bryce Williams, posted videos of the murders. He is shown pointing his pistol at Parker and firing multiple times.
On the Facebook page, Flanagan railed at the murder victims saying both bullied him at work. He accused her of making racist comments, he accused Ward of going to human resources about him after working together “one time!!!”
Media expert Karen North said social media gives everyone a platform.
“Social media provides an outlet or a channel for any one of us to make a public statement,” says North, a professor of digital media at USC.
She said people who kill and then write about it online want to control the message.
“If I want to say something, I can now say what I want to say in my own words in my own way,” North said, “with my own pictures and put my message out there the want I want to say it.”
The killer’s Facebook and Twitter accounts were shut down almost immediately after he posted the videos. Social media is taking more of an active role of late in shutting down accounts that post offensive or disturbing content.
Many have questioned whether tragedies like the shooting in Virginia will continue to play out in social media.
“Ordinarily, they’re not really copycats,” says North. “But what happens is, something called contagion. And when people do things like this, that it become contagious, it exposes other people to what they have done. So, people who feel I am similar to what that person felt and may have similar problems to that person. That becomes at least a possible response.”
On the flip side, Lazar reported that the tragedy gave strangers from all over the world the chance to mourn and get to know the victims. An emotional tweet, for example, from Parker’s boyfriend and co-worker has been shared more than 65,000 times.