April 18, 2024 | USA Today

Columbine glorification content easy to find on TikTok, gaming sites

Twenty five years after what is widely considered the first school shooting of the internet era, content glorifying the two authors of the Columbine shooting continues to circulate and inspire a new generation of young people, with some becoming radicalized and orchestrating their own deadly attacks. ISD’s Executive Director to AMEA, Moustafa Ayad, and Director of Technology and Society, Isabelle Frances-Wright, spoke with USA Today about the easy access and wide availability of content related to Columbine and how it is created by young people for young people.

They told the outlet: ‘Young people are enthralled by the Columbine killers and create content that goes viral on social media, from first-person shooter simulations to Roblox characters dressed to look like the Columbine killers down to the “natural selection” and “wrath” T-shirts they used to wear.’

The attackers behind the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary shooting and the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting “studied and emulated the Columbine attack. The documents posted online by copycats frequently mention the influence of Columbine,” writes USA Today.

“The abundance and types of materials that the killers produced resonates with young people in a way that we haven’t really seen with other school shootings,” Isabelle said, “which has allowed it to perpetuate and live on all these years later.”

Content shared on mainstream social media then leads users to private and unmonitored channels on Telegram or Discord. Users here have the ability to freely share open glorification of mass shooters, violent gore and hate speech.

In the lead up to this week’s memorial, Moustafa and Isabelle set up social media accounts as minors and quickly found 127 videos glorifying a range of shooters on TikTok and X/Twitter, including one TikTok video of the Columbine shooters as fictional Disney posters. It had amassed 400,000 views in three months.

The videos were flagged to TikTok and taken down. Despite going against platform policies, users continue to circulate this content and find ways to evade platform moderation efforts such as through coded language.

“In many respects, the Columbine shootings are considered a foundational event for supporters and content producers of mass casualty attacks,” Isabelle and Moustafa said.