Facebook or Twitter. LinkedIn or Tumblr. We expect social media to shed light on a person’s personality, especially when, as in the case of Colorado shooting suspect James Holmes, we’re trying to explain the unexplainable.
As it turns out, 24-year-old Holmes, who stands accused of killing 12 people and wounding dozens more during a shooting spree at a movie theater Friday, appears to have left virtually no digital footprint. Media and law enforcement investigating the shootings have found no traces of him online, aside from a possible account on Adult Friend Finder, a romantic meet-up site, according to police.
It’s impossible, of course, to draw broad conclusions about his mindset based on the fact that he didn’t share online. But Holmes’ lack of an online presence has emerged as a piece of the puzzle for people looking for answers.
We could ask the same questions about the lack of Web presence that we could for anyone who isolates themselves. Was he socially isolated in all senses?” asked Dr. Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center.
“We know that social isolation can amplify the negative consequences of stress and increase the risk of developing psychopathology. Some research has shown that social isolation actually delays the positive effects of activities found to be emotionally beneficial, such as exercise. … What we don’t know is what caused Holmes to have such a break with reality.”
Whatever his reasons, the lack of an online presence puts Holmes squarely in the minority among his peers.
About 81% of 18- to 29-year-olds in the United States use social media at least occasionally, said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.
And surveys show that college students like Holmes, who was a graduate neurosciences student at the University of Colorado, are even more likely to use the sites.
But Rainie says it would be a mistake to draw a direct line between his decision to eschew social networking and a mindset that led to the alleged violence.
“It’s not the norm for someone of this age to have such a limited presence, in any form: no blogs, no profile on a photo-sharing site and things like that,” Rainie said. “But it’s also a mistake to think the everyone in this age cohort is living every minute of their lives with social media. That’s not the case.”