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Social Media News - A Killer On Social Media

Inside Elliot Rodger's online life

After the tragic actions that Elliot Rodger took on May 23rd 2014, there are a lot of questions marks over his mental state and history, but a lot can be read into the psyche due to his activity on social media in the build up to his mass-murder spree.

social media online presence
Source: mindswork.co.uk

In the build-up to the brutal murders, Elliot Rodger had a YouTube account, a Facebook page, and a 141-page “manifesto,” which all declared his dismay for life and society. All of these built an image of the kind of creature that the digital age has created in the worst cases. He was incapable of social and romantic connection despite attempts to gain validation through technological channels.

From the digital footprints left by the killer, we can learn a lot about what makes someone like this tick, and chillingly it is only a hyper-accelerated version of what makes the rest of us tick on social media. He used YouTube to construct his messages of sexual frustration and hatred, and in his final video, he framed himself artfully in honeyed light, and this was probably an influence from his father who is a film director.

His upbringing in Hollywood has a degree of significance, as like cyberspace, it is what Jean Baudrillard called a “simulacrum.” What Elliot Rodgers was doing online is what the rest of social media users do, as he was creating an online persona, whilst leaving all the unflattering bits out. His Facebook page was an embodiment of this culture as it was riddled with selfies that promoted a life of glamour and allure.

In one picture he slurps champagne in the “upper class” cabin of a Virgin Atlantic airliner, whilst in another, he stretches his legs on a spacious flat-bed seat. Back on the ground he poses behind the wheel of a BMW (the car that he drove during the rampage) with the caption: “Damn, I look good.”

This is the sort of behaviour that we see everyday on our Facebook feeds, and maybe even our own: photos of new products, partners, children, and food. With this stated, it comes to no surprise that when a 2013 study by researchers at the University of Michigan concluded that Facebook and Twitter encourage egotism and superficiality.

social media online presence
Source: brandwatch.com

Elliot Rodger displayed these on many occasions, and in his manifestos he referred to himself as “a polite, kind gentleman” who was also “intelligent,” “beautiful,” “magnificent,” “superior,” and “a powerful god.”

Like thousands of others in his generation, he wasted away many hours in the virtual world of video and role-playing games such as “Halo” and “World of Warcraft,” with the latter being described as another world of excitement and adventure.”

His online activities then built the image of a man who couldn’t make meaningful interpersonal and romantic connections. He built a persona online that projected an image of high status and mass consumption. He glossed over the massive advantages he did have in life in favour of obsessing over the possessions and experiences he lacked, and this was particularly vigorous in the hypothetical girlfriend he spoke of and wrote about not as an individual, but as a disposable commodity.

Unfortunately this train of thought is dominant in our era, be it on a much smaller scale of drastic behaviour. Isolation, materialism, envy and entitlement fuel sites such as Facebook and Twitter, not to mention dating sites.

We are all guilty in promoting this new disconnected lifestyle, as we choose to “Like” instead of picking up the phone or walking across the road to go and speak to a friend. As people become less real, they become more theoretical and therefore they are more likely to be treated with prejudice and dismissive actions. 

Social media was an ingredient in the recipe that turned a young boy into a killer, but the platforms themselves cannot be blamed. Society has become too lazy, and social media is an easy way to connect and complete tasks. By planting the seed of ease in the minds of many, it has also become feasible to create different personas online. Hopefully the tragedy will wake a few people up and force them to take the power of social media very seriously.


Alex is an English Literature and Sociology undergraduate whose love for written word has led him to write about some obscure topics in his time. Currently a content writer at Social Media Frontiers, be sure to follow him @AlexSatSMF.

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Social Media News - A Killer On Social Media Reviewed by Alex Smith on Friday, May 30, 2014 Rating: 5
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