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Social Media Lessons in Wake of Mass Shooting

In the wake of another school shooting, there is more heartbreak and many questions.

The 19-year-old charged with killing 17 people at a Parkland, Florida, school had a "very disturbing" social media presence, according to Broward County authorities, as reported by NBC News.

Nikolas Cruz's social media actions are being investigated as communities around the country take stock of their own understanding of potential warning signs.

James Hawthorne, chief of police at the Cedar Hill ISD police department, says that locally school district police departments can monitor social media for signs of criminal activity and violence. The technology, however, has limitations and can't catch everything.

Hawthorne says his best intelligence comes from people who recognize and report warning signs.

"I always say the best way to have some impact in that is through the relationships we have every day with the students and the administrators and the staff at the schools," Hawthorne said.

Social media activity he wants to know about include signs that a student is fascinated with death or violence, either toward people or animals. If a student is associating with violent groups like white supremacists, he would like to investigate further.

A social media post alone isn't proof of a problem, but Hawthorne says it should prompt more investigation to find out if the student is also demonstrating behavioral problems.

"We will check things out, and there are times and occasions when things come out of that [you think] thank God somebody called in," Hawthorne said. "Somebody saw something that looked out of place, and that's the piece of information we needed in order to get this person help, or it's just the piece of information we needed to intervene in a situation that could have had heavier consequences later on."

Dr. John Jeffrey, a North Texas clinical psychologist, adds that he advises adults to be on the lookout for signs of despair, or hopelessness from a young person. He says giving up on the future or disregarding rules and other people are behavioral warning signs.

Parents should make a call to a school official or police if there is a known threat of violence and communicate with other parents to ensure accountability.

"Everybody needs to share the responsibility. Let's all be contacting school officials," Jeffrey said. "Make sure that we know everybody is aware of this and let's move on this quickly."

"We want to keep the equation simple. If a young person has made a threat and someone is not sure if they were serious or if there's a real threat there, we have to err on the side of safety," Jeffrey said.

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