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Office of News & Public Affairs

BC Expert: Murders on Social Media

Jerry Kane

Jerry Kane
Associate Professor of Information Systems
Carroll School of Management
Boston College
(508) 667-8731 (cell)

Gerald C. (Jerry) Kane's research interests involve the role of information systems in social networks and the use of social media for managing knowledge within and between organizations. His published research has appeared in Information Systems Research, MIS Quarterly, Organization Science, and Harvard Business Review. Kane has received grants from the National Science Foundation and from the US Army for his research on social media.  


The circumstances of the murder of two journalists druing a live broadcast would have garnered enough attention on its own, but thanks to social media, the crime of Vester Flanagan went viral, ensuring a maximum audience and the specter of copycat killings.

"Social media is ubiquitous," says Jerry Kane, associate professor of information systems at Boston College's Carroll School of Management. "We all have a television broadcast crew in our pockets and anything we do, anything we want can all be broadcast. When it’s backed up by sort of a shocking event like this, then he gets the attention he’s looking for. I think the danger is for copycat people to say, ‘Ah, this method works. I’m going to do it too.’"

Flanagan, who went by the name Bryce Williams when he was a television news reporter, knew the murder would only capture the audience of the world if he videotaped it, posted it on Facebook, and tweeted it out. And that's what he did, not long after he walked up to a news reporter and videographer who were in the middle of a morning television news live shot for the Roanoke, VA station, WDBJ-TV, where Williams once worked before being fired.

"He felt wronged in some way by the company and he’s using self-broadcast violence as an opportunity to call attention to his agenda, and call attention to his war," says Kane, who is widely published on social media matters.  "And it’s not a war on a country; it’s a war on a company. He’s clearly trying to make a point that he's waging war against the company and he’s going use all the tools at his disposal to make that happen."

Social media was one of his most valuable tools, as a nation of curiosity passed along the video link of violence in a series of likes and retweets that went viral within hours. A murder for all to see and a reminder of these very different times we live in.

"In the past, there was a certain sense of journalistic ethics. If a news crew caught something like this on tape, they would censor it, they would make sure it was sanitized for the public to view," says Kane. "Now, once it’s out there, it’s going to be really hard to clamp down and keep this video off line. It’s out there and it’s not going to be possible for broadcast television to sanitize or censor it. It’s out there and there’s nothing anybody can do about it."

"I see him as a terrorist,” says Kane. “He's committing an act of violence and then broadcasting it all over social media which is exactly what ISIS has been doing. As everybody now has broadcast capabilities in their pocket, it creates new possibilities for terrorism in a sense."



Media Note: Contact information for additional Boston College faculty sources on a range of subjects is available at: /offices/pubaf/journalist/experts.html

Sean Hennessey
Associate Director
Office of News and Public Affairs
Boston College

(617) 552-3630 (office)
(617) 943-4323 (cell)