Social Media Now Used To Vet Gun Applicants In New York State – IGWIIKI

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Beginning this month, as part of a comprehensive background check process in the Empire State, residents seeking to carry a concealed handgun will are now required to provide details regarding their social media accounts, which will be reviewed for “character and conduct.” The new requirement, which recently took effect in New York, was part of a law passed in July that sought to preserve some limits on firearms after the Supreme Court had ruled that most citizens have a right to carry a handgun for personal protection.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed the bill into law in July, and at the time noted that many mass shooters have “telegraphed” their intent to hurt others online.

Under the new law, applicants now have to provide local officials with a list of current and former social media accounts from the previous three years. It will then be up to local sheriff’s staff, judges, or country clerks to scroll through those profiles as they check whether applicants have made statements suggesting dangerous behavior.

Not everyone is praising the new law.

Some local officials who may be tasked with reviewing the social media content have already asked whether they’ll have the resources to conduct the search and, in some cases, whether the law is even constitutional. Moreover, there are other questions that should also be asked, including whether social media is really the most effective “mirror” to one’s mental state.

“While not perfect, research does show that what people post to social media often reflects their mental state. This effect is stronger for people with more extreme emotions,” said Colin Campbell, associate professor of marketing at the University of San Diego’s Knauss School of Business and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Advertising Research.

Others take a dimmer view of how the technology could be employed.

“Setting up a process that requires all this social media to be read and judged sure seems like a plan to stonewall the approval process,” warned Jim Purtilo, associate professor of computer science at the University of Maryland.

“Leaving aside the policy’s sketchy constitutionality, bureaucrats will be free to pick and choose who should receive consideration – a blatantly political practice,” added Purtilo.

Cheating The System

It is true in some of the recent mass shootings that some of the individuals – notably young men – have dropped hints on the social platforms. This was certainly the case of the gunman who killed 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

However, it remains unclear whether individuals actually would provide what they think law enforcement may want to see, and more importantly what they may want to keep private.

“Knowing whether or not an applicant submitted a full list of their social media accounts is a major problem,” suggested Campbell. “People could be selective in choosing to only present accounts that they believe will be received well, or even lie and state they have no social media accounts. Many people also create multiple accounts under pseudonyms either to post different types of content or anonymously follow accounts.”

One option would be for law enforcement to work directly with the social media services, but that could be time-consuming – and could miss key red flags.

“Having them run a search for all of the accounts associated with a person’s email and phone number would be a stronger way of finding all of a person’s accounts,” added Campbell. “Even better, would be a search based on a person’s IP address or device IDs. This would require the creation of some software to reliably collect this information from users. This is possible though as many companies, such as Apple, already send users links to open on their phones that can collect device data for troubleshooting.”

Confusing The Issue?

Another issue is that those with more common names could be easily confused with other individuals. This could result in some being denied despite doing nothing wrong – just as individuals have erroneously ended up on no-fly lists or terrorist watch lists. Campbell said this speaks again to the need for law enforcement to work with social media companies directly in doing these searches.

Purtilo countered that this could be far more complicated.

“Speaking as a technologist I can confidently predict this will be a nightmare in management of identity credentials,” he suggested.

“How to attribute social media activity to the right person? Authenticating identity is already a costly mess and it will get nothing but worse when the stakes become higher,” said Purtilo. “Officials can take an applicant’s word for what is their traffic, and in that case we’d see a big business in fake accounts that are manufactured just to pass scrutiny. Officials could independently check the Internet for accounts, but good luck making those connections.”

Purtilo noted that Elon Musk is killing his purchase of Twitter because the service even can’t figure out which of its user accounts are real. “Or officials could insist on independent validation of accounts, which would really be a hot mess. Even industry doesn’t know how to do it in a cost-effective manner.”

The Context Of Bad Decisions

Already we’re seeing that some employers try to review the social media accounts of job applicants, and the question is whether actions from years ago should impact someone’s career today. The same holds true for other facets of life.

Of course, it could be argued that someone who made violent or threatening actions years ago could still be a danger today. The issue is whether old posts from years ago should immediately disqualify someone from what the highest court in the land has deemed to be a constitutional right.

“It’s always possible that content posted to social media won’t age well, but my guess is that law enforcement will be looking at the totality of a person’s posts. I would guess that any single borderline post would not trigger a rejection,” said Campbell. “Automated AI-based tools could also be used to read the emotions displayed in images and text to give a more complete and objective look at a person’s content.”

The counterargument is whether one could clean up or scrub their profile prior to applying for such a permit.

“Users also always have the option of hiding or deleting content from their social media, reinforcing why it’s valuable for law enforcement to work directly with social media companies,” added Campbell.

Those Without Social Media?

For years, many people have been warned that social media is “forever,” so the question becomes what happens when it is a required part of the vetting process yet one doesn’t have much of a social media presence? Are those who decided not to post all aspects of their lives – good and bad moments alike – going to be punished for not taking part?

“More and more people are choosing to go off of social media, so this may be more common than we might think,” explained Campbell.

That could lead some to being denied – not for showing anti-social tendencies, but because they were anti-social media.

“And at end of it all, this policy codifies a selection bias – it only checks the supposed temperaments of people who happen to be on social media,” noted Purtilo. “So much for equal treatment under the law.”

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