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Ex-FBI agent on Florida massacre: The challenge we face is social media

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(WVUE) -

Many are still struggling to come to grips with the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. They want to know how and why this tragedy happened, especially since the FBI says it knew about Nikolas Cruz's threat. 

They are disturbing words posted for the world to see. Authorities say at least two people did - and alerted the FBI.

"The FBI received information about a comment made on a YouTube channel. The comment simply said, "I'm going to be a professional school shooter."

"The FBI conducted database checks, wasn't able to further identify the person who made the comment," said FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Robert Lasky.

"The challenge we face today is social media. We are not the thought police, we are not the Nazis," said adjunct Tulane professor and former head of the New Orleans FBI office James Bernazzani.

Bernazzani says law enforcement faces a difficult task when presented with constitutional issues like freedom of speech.

"It's that fundamental balance between liberty and security. Where does our fulcrum on the see-saw shift? Does it shift towards liberty, which takes away from security? Or does it shift towards security and take away liberty?" Bernazzani said. 

Bernazzani says having intelligence like the YouTube post, though troubling, doesn't always amount to an investigation. He says there must be enough to take legal action to interdict a threat.

"The challenge we have is the integration of disparate pieces of information, putting it together to begin to paint that threat mosaic to find out who exactly this person is, and what is he up to?" explained Bernazzani.

In this case, that didn't happen. But social media experts say it's not always easy to distinguish what posts warrant intervention.  

"There's a fine line. You can't scream fire in a theater, right? But there are certain things people should or shouldn't be able to do on social media without bringing attention," explained Tulane Freeman School of Business professor Ashley Nelson.

Nelson says combine the YouTube post with other activity on Nikolas Cruz's social media sites, and the warning signs were there. It's why she says it's important students are able to talk openly with school administrators or parents about what they see online.

"I just think it's more awareness of our own children to speak up and trust the orient to then take it to the school or take it to the officials," Nelson said. 

From there, Nelson says it's important parents understand what policies are in place at their child's school.

"What incidents or type of posts will a school say, 'hey, let's take a look at this and we need to figure out, is this is real? Is this out of anger? Is the child just being clueless?' Because granted, of it's a 12-year-old, they're not going to get all the implications an 18-year-old would," explained Nelson. 

Bernazzani adds in situations where you think there could be a threat, it's always best to report it.

"Do not become your own police department. Get the information to appropriate authorities, they're the professionals. They'll know what to do with it," Bernazzani said. 

Nelson also stresses the importance of communicating with your children. Check in with them, not only about what they're up to online, but what their friends and classmates are posting, too. 

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