Mare · 15 oktober 2015
Practical joker or lone wolf? How seriously should we take Internet threats?
The threat was posted on the internet forum 4chan.
The 21-year-old student who posted two messages threatening a shooting at Leiden University on 4chan.com last week has confessed. How do we know whether we’re dealing with a potential school shooter or a practical joker? “In over 99.99 per cent of the cases, internet threats are not serious.” BY PETRA MEIJER Tomorrow at 10:05 I will open fire at the university of Leiden. Not gonna tell you which faculty, that’s up to you to guess. Shit’s gonna go down, then I’m gonna go down. Going for the highscore. Only counts if suicide you cancerous fucks, get it right. Those are the words of a 21-yearold student from Valkenburg who threatened a shooting “somewhere at Leiden University”, posted last week on the internet forum 4chan. After they had been reported, police
in bullet-proof vests were dispatched to various faculties. A second threat followed later the same day on 4chan: Yesterday was a test, to get some parameters. Normies, get ready to fuckin drop :^) The student was arrested on Tuesday night at student fraternity Catena and has been questioned and set free, following his confession. It is not yet known when his case will come up. It’s not the first time an educational institute in Leiden has been threatened via the 4chan forum. Eighteen months ago, all Leiden secondary schools and upper secondary vocational colleges remained closed for a day when someone threatened to shoot a teacher. A man was apprehended for sending one of the messages “as a joke”. He was sentenced to 150 hours of community punishment. “In over 99.99 per cent of the cases, internet threats are not serious”, claims PhD student Jelle van Buu-
ren, who is researching so-called “lone wolves”. “If you look at how often people say on the internet that they’ll shoot or stab someone and compare that to crime statistics, you’ll see two entirely different things. Every year in May, around the time of the school finals, there’s a rise in the number of threats to schools and teachers. If all the threats to burn down schools were actually carried out, there wouldn’t be any schools left in the Netherlands.” But how can we tell when they are serious? Bart Schermer, a senior lecturer at the Law Faculty is conducting a study into internet regulations and internet governance. “The police use special software and there are social media monitoring systems like OBI4wan and Coosto. If someone creates a threatening atmosphere, those systems can pick it up.” In addition, the police use iColumbo, a service that collects and analyses relevant information using keywords. According to Van Buuren, these “smart machines” make a first selection and analysis, but the finals assessments are done by humans. “Analysts trained specially for the job: they see if they can trace the sender quickly and what type of person that is, bearing in mind: the vaguer the contents, the less danger. But if the message states times, specific locations, objects or weapons, they will investigate it more thoroughly.” Schermer continues: “There’s a difference between a tweet announcing that you will kill the Prime Minister or message to a friend after you have lost at a computer game saying that you’ll slay him next time. But we should always consider whether the suspicion is worth the violation of privacy. It doesn’t seem very wrong to monitor keywords, but how do we feel about the government constantly watching us? How long do they store the messages? These are fundamental issues.” Using iRN, the Internet Research Network, the police can watch our internet activities anonymously. Van Buuren explains: “4chan truly is the gutter of the internet. It’s where child pornography is traded and all sorts of obscure deals are arranged. Just because a threat was posted on 4chan doesn’t mean to say that it shouldn’t be taken seriously. It’s crucial to assess each message individually.” So why did the police in Leiden decide to take action? Van Buuren says: “Probably the police received another threat besides the one on
4chan, perhaps via a direct email. We call that a double warning.” In addition, the text contained elements that we often see with school shooters: the desire for eternal fame and the threat of suicide after the shooting, for instance. As they were combined with a specific time, the police probably decided not to clear the building but to send extra security.” Van Buuren thinks the decision to continue with the lectures a wise one. “The police and the government often act on the grounds that it’s better safe than sorry. Understandable but it has a downside: firstly, there’s a risk of copycats. But if you overreact, you’ll disrupt society because some spotty adolescent posted a threat.” In his view, the memory of recent, similar incidents is often something to be considered. “There’d been a shooting at a school in America just a week before the threats in Leiden, while we always think: ‘It won’t happen here.’” Something along those lines occurred Rotterdam last month, when a 16-year-old fare dodger jumped on the Thalys trains and locked himself in the toilet. The train was evacuated and nine platforms were closed off. “The failed attack in the Thalys train was still fresh in everyone’s mind. Trained analysts are aware of these pitfalls.” But are there any cases in which the authorities have had to say “sorry” instead of playing it safe? “That’s hard to say”, admits Van Buuren. “In hindsight, you see everything in the light of the incident. If you ask around after a murder, the neighbours say ‘I always thought he was a bit odd.’ But think of Elliot Rodgers in America, who really hated women. He uploaded videos to YouTube and the threat of violence was very obvious. The police were even warned by his mother so they paid him a visit. But he was very courteous to the officers. Two days later, he shot six people and then killed himself.” As Van Buuren says, there is no single profile of the “lone wolf “and that’s why it’s hard to distinguish them from jokers. “Some have mental problems, or they’re frustrated with their lives and society. But so are very many people and they don’t do anything. It’s actually a combination of factors.” Van Buuren adds: “It’s great that the students just carried on as usual and didn’t feel frightened by the cars patrolling the streets. It’s a lovely example our strong, down-to-earth society.”
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Testosterone People with a social anxiety disorder have a tendency to avoid looking at the person they are speaking to. A group of Dutch psychologists, including Anita Harrewijn and Philip Spinhoven from Leiden, demonstrate a test to that end in the science journal Psychoneuroendocrinology. They already knew that people with social anxieties have a lower level of testosterone and that testosterone influences they way they look at people in certain forms of that disorder. The psychologists invited women with an anxiety disorder to visit them twice. On the first visit, the women were given a placebo while the second time they received a glass of testosterone. Then they were asked to look at faces on a screen: angry faces, happy faces and faces with a neutral expression. Normally, a person with an anxiety disorder will look away quickly if an angry face appears on the screen, but after a dose of testosterone they spent as long looking at the angry faces as they did at the neutral faces. The authors suggest that the hormone may help in therapy.
Ditch water Leiden environmental scientists claim that the effect of agricultural pesticides on creatures in the surrounding ditches is quite small. In Basic and Applied Ecology, they describe how, for two years, they took samples from the ditches along tulip fields and pastures, and compared the composition to samples from nearby ponds in wildlife areas. There were substantial differences in the numbers of small fish, insects and other beasties in the samples, but that is always the case when two biological samples are compared. Using statistics, the researchers tried to clarify which differences were actually due to the pesticides. In the end, it emerged that the environmental factors had twice as much influence as pesticides while the influence of time is about the same.
Pulsar The LOFAR radio telescope has discovered an odd pulsar and pulsars are quite odd as it is: collapsed stars with a massive density that spin round their axes like lighthouses, emitting beams of radiation. From a distance, the stars seem to be blinking – we only see the beam when it shines our way – and that’s why they’re called pulsating stars. In the specialist astronomer’s journal MNRAS, a LOFAR team, including Laura Bîrzan and Huub Röttgering from Leiden Observatory, describe a pulsar with a “quiet mode”. The prosaically named star PSR B0823+26 has periods in which its beam is suddenly a hundred times weaker than normal. We know of some 2,300 pulsars, but only a few seem to do that and we don’t quite know why. Other pulsars are the same age, the same weight and magnetic but don’t display the same behaviour.
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