It is unclear whether the rants that the 22-​​year-​​old Rodger had posted on the video-​​sharing ser­vice just over three weeks before he killed six people and him­self would have tipped the scales in favor of inter­ven­tion. But the dis­clo­sure rekin­dled debate over the extent to which social media should be con­sid­ered a rou­tine inves­tiga­tive tool when con­cerns are raised about an individual’s mental health.

Dr. Kris Mohandie, a clin­ical, police and forensic psy­chol­o­gist and an expert on vio­lent behavior, said social media can and should be used by inves­ti­ga­tors to try to uncover clues about poten­tially vio­lent indi­vid­uals before they act.

Social media inves­ti­ga­tion not only should be stan­dard pro­ce­dure for law enforce­ment, but maybe even mental health providers treating indi­vid­uals who they have con­cerns about,” Mohandie said, noting such efforts can break down silos of infor­ma­tion and paint “a more coherent pic­ture” of that individual.

But many experts doubt that social media analysis would prove valu­able in iden­ti­fying poten­tially vio­lent indi­vid­uals and warn that poring over such mate­rial could prove an enor­mous waste of law enforce­ment offi­cers’ time and resources.

The problem for author­i­ties is that most of the mate­rial that Rodger posted online was “indis­tin­guish­able from thou­sands — maybe tens of thou­sands — of people who have sim­ilar anx­i­eties, frus­tra­tions, inad­e­qua­cies and anger,” said James Alan Fox, a pro­fessor of crim­i­nology, law and public policy at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity. “They don’t go on ram­pages. We can’t pros­e­cute people for talk unless they take actual steps toward that end.”

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