So the Texas shooter wasn't on Facebook--so what?

A criminology professor suggests that the fact that the math student who randomly shot an AK47 on campus before shooting himself wasn't on Facebook indicated his isolation. Really?

Chris Matyszczyk
2 min read

Every time a student gets hold of guns and begins to shoot them all over campus, wise people theorize.

What was it that brought him (seems always to be a "him") to such extreme action? What personality factors should have made his state of mind obvious? What behavior should have been spotted so that he could have been offered care and guidance?

Such a discussion has again emerged after Colton Tooley, a 19-year-old math student, allegedly availed himself of an AK-47 and randomly shot it around before shooting himself on the University of Texas campus.

The AP reports that Tooley seemed, to those who knew him, perfectly normal. Yet the report also quotes James Alan Fox, a professor of criminology at Northeastern University, who suggested that those who enjoy academic excellence, but are isolated, can be dangerous.

He went on to opine that the alleged fact that Tooley didn't have a Facebook page "reflects a certain degree of isolation" that might have contributed to his ultimate actions.

The University of Texas at Austin. CC Alamos Basement/Flickr

Professor Fox's work is, no doubt, valuable and interesting. However, I, and a few of my less than sociable friends, worry about the idea that not having a Facebook page implies your own personal isolation.

Mightn't it just as easily reflect a certain liberation from the herd-like behavior of your peers? Mightn't it reflect a certain intelligence, one that understands that getting involved in superficial group frippery takes up a lot of time for very little reward. Might it suggest that one knows one could use that time, say, going to the movies? Or, perish the concept, actually seeing someone? Might it suggest the slightest bit of originality?

For those who are slightly different, whether it be because of how they look, how they think, or even how they behave, the pressure to join the herd can, indeed, be considerable. Resisting the herd can sometimes seem, to the herd at least, odd.

But the truth is that, however hard friends, teachers, or professors of criminology may try, sometimes it is impossible to hear or see the internal world which many people inhabit. People don't always articulate who they are, what they feel and how they feel it.

There are surely many students who are brilliant academically, who do not participate in Facebook, and who don't have the urge to buy an AK-47, with a view to shooting it around campus. Not that Fox is implying otherwise.

Whatever internal suffering Cooley might have endured, it's hard to imagine that his allegedly not having a Facebook page suggests anything other than that he chose not to have a Facebook page.