ISLA VISTA, Calif.–Hours after a shooting rampage in this coastal college town that the alleged gunman said was “retribution” against women who’d rejected him, a woman launched a conversation on Twitter about what it’s like to feel vulnerable to violence.
“As soon as I reached my teens, I didn’t feel comfortable being outside in the evening on my own street,” the woman wrote in one of her first posts under a Twitter hashtag called #YesAllWomen. The woman declined to be identified for this article.
The hashtag had garnered more than 500,000 tweets by Sunday afternoon, according to Internet analytics firm Topsy.com, making it the most active on Twitter.
Comments started pouring in as soon as the hashtag was started, with women from around the world—including Saudi Arabia—chiming in and using the hashtag as a vehicle to air their feelings on issues from criticism of their dress, to men’s behavior. (A response from men quickly started under the tag #NotAllMen).
Similarly, sites proliferated on Facebook and other social media condemning the Friday night attacks that left seven dead, including suspected gunman Elliot Rodger, while offering condolences for the victims.
Mr. Rodger, 22, was found dead of a gunshot wound, possibly self-inflicted, after two shootouts with police Friday night. Mr. Rodger, who posted in a written manifesto and on YouTube his frustrations with his inability to attract women, killed three men in his apartment building before shooting and killing two young women and one young man, investigators said.
In a tragedy that was predicted on social media and is now being lamented on social media, the Internet has played an extraordinarily active role.
“Social media has given everybody a voice, so now everybody can be known and give their opinions,” said Alicia Kan, a social media strategist for Globe Runner, an online marketing firm in Dallas, Texas.
The reason social media sites often fill up with comments after a tragedy is people can respond to an event immediately, without the filter of traditional media, said Rachel Sklar, founder of TheLi.st, a media network for women in New York. “Social media is now like a first stop for impulses,” Ms. Sklar said.
On Sunday, investigators were still processing a dozen crime scenes spread out across the college town, as students were still coming to grips with spasm of violence that so abruptly upended what was meant to be a celebratory holiday weekend just before exams and graduation.
Three students at the University of California, Santa Barbara, were killed in the attack, two of them sorority sisters—Veronika Weiss, 19, and Katie Cooper, 22—who were standing outside with a third young woman, who survived but was wounded. Christopher Michaels-Martinez, 20, was killed near a deli where he was out getting a snack, his father said.
The names of three male victims found stabbed to death at Mr. Rodger’s apartment complex had not yet been released, Santa Barbara Sheriff’s department officials said. Investigators know the identities of the men, but were still in the process of notifying next of kin.
UC Santa Barbara’s Student Resources Center was one of the few places buzzing with activity Sunday. The Women, Gender and Sexual Equity Department was open and counselors were available for students and community members who asked to speak with one.
Sammy Thordarson, a 19-year-old in her second year at UC Santa Barbara, said: “It’s hard for me to feel unsafe here because of what a strong community we are—and that’s frightening.” Still, she said, she takes advantage of the college’s Community Service Organization, which provides student escorts to anyone who doesn’t want to walk alone—in Isla Vista and on campus.
On Sunday morning talk shows, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said deputies who visited Mr. Rodger weeks before the shooting at the request of family members, concluded that he wasn’t a threat. “At the time the deputies interacted with him, he was able to convince them he was OK,” Mr. Brown said on the CBS program “Face the Nation”.
In a 141-page document posted online, Mr. Rodger described the visit, expressing relief that they didn’t search his room, which was filled with weapons and ammo. “That would have ended everything,” he wrote. Instead he was able to convince them it was “all a misunderstanding,” the manifesto says.
Meanwhile, thousands more people have posted comments on copies of a nearly seven-minute video Mr. Rodger originally posted on YouTube before the shooting, vowing he would “slaughter every single spoiled, stuck-up blond,” in a sorority house at UC Santa Barbara because girls had rejected him. The video has since been removed from the site.
In a written statement, a spokesman for YouTube, which is owned by Google said: “Our hearts go out to the families affected by this terrible news. Videos threatening violence are against YouTube’s guidelines and we remove them when they are flagged. We encourage anyone who sees material that they think crosses the line to flag it for us.”
#YesAllWomen has especially touched a nerve, in part because Mr. Rodger’s video exemplified attitudes that generally put down women, Ms. Sklar said. “It’s not just about violence against women, but the attitudes that were so chillingly on display in his video–that he was unfairly deprived of attention from women, which was his due,” she said.
While the online discussions may help people deal with difficult issues, they in themselves aren’t likely to keep society much safer, said Carolyn Reinach Wolf, head of the mental health legal practice at the New York law firm of Abrams Fensterman. Instead, she said, more resources need to be put into getting mental health treatment for potential shooters in need.