Randy Stair, arrived for his late-night shift at the Eaton Township, Pennsylvania Weis Markets on June 7, 2017. The 24-year-old barricaded the exits of the store and proceeded to shoot and kill three of his co-workers before shooting himself. Randy had worked for Weis Markets for seven years prior to the shooting. He was notably a prolific poster on his Twitter and YouTube accounts and had previously expressed his willingness to commit suicide as well as detailed plans to carry out the shooting.
In his prior online posts Stair even called the Columbine shooters his heroes
According to the US Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), some 2 million American workers are victims of workplace violence each year. In 2017, assaults resulted in 18,400 injuries and 458 fatalities, according to injury facts.
Given the above alarming numbers it is worth investigating the value of using social media and AI to flag for specific behaviors that might predispose a candidate to toxic and possibly extreme violence. Daniil Davydoff, Associate Director of Intelligence at AT-RISK International discussed some of the links between social media and workplace violence in his article in Security Magazine in 2018, “6 Links Between Social Media and Violence you Haven’t Thought About” To summarize, Mr. Davydoff asserts that social media use may be linked to inadequacy, mental health, righteous indignation, sexual relationships, fixation and attack planning. While further studies are required, we have strong evidence of linkages between workplace violence and social media posts.
In the United States, assaults are the 4th leading cause of workplace deaths and every organization has a responsibility to their employees to reduce this risk. Beyond traditional methods to ensuring workplace safety, adoption of social media screening is becoming mainstream. With the use of Artificial Intelligence, scanning a candidate or employee’s online posts is performed thoroughly in minutes and it gives organizations the ability to continuously screen and raise red flags whenever there is a problematic post.
While there are few studies providing measurable results on how much this approach mitigates workplace safety risks, we can draw some conclusions based on anecdotal evidence from the numerous cases in recent history of individuals that have posted online prior to physical violence or criminal act. In a study conducted by the FBI in 2018 on the warning signs of mass shooters, they stated that more than half of the shooters they studied exhibited “leakage”. That is, they discussed the idea of committing the violent act with others. And in many instances, this was discussed online.
Traditional background checks such as criminal, employment verification and drug screening only go so far in its ability to weed out a potential bad actor. Social Media can provide much more insight when it comes to identifying characteristics which could lead to physical violence in the workplace. AI can identify risk factors in both the text as well as images that are posted; factors such as political extremism, threats of violence, self-harm and even hate speech. It can also provide employers with the added benefit of understanding their candidate’s sentiment over time – an indication of emotional state and most importantly trends.
In summary, companies need to add social media screening to their vetting process to help address what has become an epidemic in the United States. And with rapidly changing demographics, political unrest and shifting attitudes coupled with billions of people hyper-connected to each other in a global network, the problem is likely to get worse. Human Resources and Corporate Security should work together and given the right tools such as, AI Powered social media screening, they could just possibly prevent the next workplace violence incident.