Crime Takes a Social Media Turn


In this age of social media, crime itself has undergone a transformation, and the previously unthinkable seems to be on a rampage to somehow out-worst itself.

Crimes carried out with social media accomplices seem to be ever more despicable and de-humanizing.

In the past, an individual might merely set his or her sights on securing an illicit goal of some sort, and a twisted satisfaction would have been completed. Now, however, some of those who were previously content with being shadow dwellers prefer to seek the spotlight instead, with the ultimate aim of acquiring social media fame and even a warped super star status should a social media incident go viral.

As social media took on the properties of being able to display and stream video footage, the advent of a new and different kind of criminal behavior emerged, one which law enforcement professionals have appropriately labeled “performance crime.”

Using social media platforms, which include Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Vine, and Instagram, among others, a perpetrator is able to share unlawful activities with the public-at-large and oftentimes attain a perverse notoriety in the process.

Performance crime video posts of late have shocked the public with cruel conduct and untold violence. Additionally, perpetrators frequently exhibit a wholesale disregard for human dignity as well as a desire to brutalize and intentionally humiliate a more vulnerable individual.

The reality show media culture seems to have sparked a fame-seeking desire on the part of those who do not see the value of moving from self-absorption and vainglory to altruism and humility. Society’s fixation on celebrities, too, seems to have had the effect of encouraging a pursuit of fame at any cost, including criminality and depravity.

Facebook’s addition of shared live-streamed events (Facebook Live) has served to elevate the immediacy with which a criminal is able to satisfy a self-promotion craving.

The nation recently watched in horror as a Facebook Live post displayed for all to see four young people hold a mentally-disabled individual captive, repeatedly humiliate him, and subject him to torture.

The defendants, who are 18-years-old or older, are accused of multiple felonies, including hate crimes. Each, in addition to the hate crime count, has been charged with felony aggravated kidnapping, aggravated unlawful restraint, and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.

Facebook has officially stated that the site will “prohibit content deemed to be directly harmful… .” However, this case will potentially challenge the social media giant and other web concerns to alter policies, particularly regarding the use of platforms such as Facebook Live. Facebook Live is a highly promoted feature on Facebook and a significant part of the site’s future business plans.

The civil law is not helpful in that it does not place pressure on social media sites such as Facebook. In order to encourage the user-generated content that drives social media websites, federal law, as set forth in the Communications Decency Act, grants immunity to Facebook, Twitter, and other similar sites from liability for what their users post and share.

Considering its carefully cultivated brand, Facebook is in a very difficult position. The site has to be reactive to violent posts after the fact, until and unless some kind of artificial intelligence technology is developed that is able to stop such content from being posted in the first place.

Even this kind of technological approach, though, will pose significant problems since parodies, movie trailers, television previews, and the like often contain the depiction of violent crimes. Moreover, law enforcement professionals have found social media sites to be useful tools in many cases.

Law enforcement has and continues to employ social media in criminal investigations. Because a given post can be seen by a large group of viewers within minutes, police officers are often alerted to the commission of crimes, and arrests may result thanks to social media assistance.

Proof of the commission of crimes is now routinely found on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social media sites. Many cases could not be prosecuted but for relevant social media material that a defendant created.

The primary evidence in the subject criminal case against the four perpetrators is the video footage posted on the Internet via Facebook Live. Without the video footage, it would be unlikely that the case would be successfully prosecuted since the only witness to the crime would then be the special needs victim, a witness whose credibility could easily be challenged by a defense lawyer.

Ironically, the same video footage that was created and distributed on social media by the four suspects themselves may end up being the key evidence in this case, which will likely place the defendants behind bars for a very long time.

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