Lethal Black Social Media Beefs: Why Aren't Social Media Companies Pressured To Do Something About All The Incitements To Murder On Their Platforms?
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I’ve read about a half dozen interviews over the years with black police chiefs who blame the rise in black-on-black murders on their watch on social media beefs. But the following, that also appeared in The Atlantic, is one of the first MSM pieces I’ve seen to wonder whether the big social media platforms should do something about people inciting real world murders on their platform. In contrast, I’ve read far many more articles about how real-world murders are the fault of white supremacy, and far more about how the Real Threats are white Trump voters.

From Pro Publica:

How Social Media Apps Could Be Fueling Homicides Among Young Americans
by Alec MacGillis
Aug. 8, 7 a.m. EDT

As shooting rates among the young remain stratospheric, evidence suggests social media is serving as an accelerant to violence. Taunts that once could be forgotten now live on before large audiences, prompting people to take action.

Criminologists point to a confluence of factors, including the social disruptions caused by COVID‑19, the rise in gun sales early in the pandemic and the uproar following the murder of George Floyd, which, in many cities, led to diminished police activity and further erosion of trust in the police. But in my reporting on the surge, I kept hearing about another accelerant: social media. …

When the pandemic led officials to close civic hubs such as schools, libraries and rec centers for more than a year, people—especially young people—­were pushed even further into virtual space. …

Violence prevention workers described feuds that started on Instagram, Snapchat and other platforms and erupted into real life with terrifying speed. “When I was young and I would get into an argument with somebody at school, the only people who knew about it were me and the people at school,” said James Timpson, a violence prevention worker in Baltimore. “Not right now. Five hundred people know about it before you even leave school. And then you got this big war going on.”

…The nationwide homicide rate for 15- to 19-year-olds increased by an astonishing 91% from 2014 to 2021. Last year in Washington, D.C., 105 people under 18 were shot—nearly twice as many as in the previous year. In Philadelphia in the first nine months of 2022, the tally of youth shooting victims—181—equaled the tally for all of 2015 and 2016 combined. And in Baltimore, more than 60 children ages 13 to 18 were shot in the first half of this year. That’s double the totals for the first half of each year from 2015 to 2021—and it has occurred while overall homicides in the city declined. Nationwide, this trend has been racially disproportionate to an extreme degree: In 2021, Black people ages 10 to 24 were almost 14 times more likely to be the victims of a homicide than young white people. …

“I cannot believe the level of immaturity and stupidity that’s become the norm,” one wrote in the chat. Another asked the question looming over the session: Had anyone in the city’s violence prevention realm asked the social media companies to limit inflammatory content?

“I don’t think we’ve made much progress,” Beale admitted. When the city had sought to have posts removed, he said, the companies had rebuffed its pleas with vague arguments about free speech. Even if social media platforms did remove a post, 20 people could already have shared it with hundreds or thousands more. And given the pace of online life, you might spend five years trying to block harmful content on one platform, only for all the activity to migrate to another.

I asked a spokesperson for Google, which owns YouTube, about the AhkDaClicka video with the line about the Glock, as well as another video posted last summer, titled “Pull Da Plug.”

It showed a Louisville, Kentucky, rapper and about a dozen other young men apparently celebrating a shooting that had left a man on life support (he later died). The head of the Louisville violence—prevention agency had told me that the victim’s family asked Google to remove the video, but it stayed up, collecting more than 15,000 views. The spokesperson, Jack Malon, told me the company generally had a “pretty high threshold” for removing music videos, in part because company policy allows exceptions for artistic content.

My conversations with Malon and his counterparts at Snap and Meta (which owns Facebook and Instagram) left me with the impression that social media platforms have given relatively little thought to their role in fueling routine gun violence, compared with the higher-profile debate over censoring incendiary political speech. Meta pointed me to its “community standards,” which are full of gray-area statements such as “We also try to consider the language and context in order to distinguish casual statements from content that constitutes a credible threat to public or personal safety.” Snap argued that its platform was more benign than others, because posts are designed to disappear and are viewed primarily by one’s friends. I also reached out to TikTok, but the company didn’t respond.

Communities, meanwhile, have been left to fend for themselves. But violence ­prevention groups are dominated by middle-­aged men who grew up in the pre-­smartphone era; they’re more comfortable intervening in person than deciphering threats on TikTok. Before the pandemic, an intern at Pittsburgh’s main anti-­violence organization scanned social media posts by young people considered at risk of becoming involved in conflicts. The Rev. Cornell Jones, the city government’s liaison to violence prevention groups, told me that the intern had once detected a feud brewing online among teenagers, some of whom had acquired firearms. Jones brought in the participants and their mothers and defused the situation. Then the intern left town for law school and the organization reverted to the ad hoc methods that are more typical for such groups. “If you’re not monitoring social media, you’re wondering why 1,000 people are suddenly downtown fighting,” Jones said ruefully. In early July, a shooting at a block party in Baltimore validated his concern: Though the event had been discussed widely on social media, no police officers were on hand; later, a video circulated of a teenager showing off what appeared to be a gun at the party. The shooting left two dead and 28 others wounded.

A decade ago, Desmond Upton Patton, a professor of social policy, communications and psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, got the first of several grants to study what he called “internet banging.” His research team co-designed algorithms with a team at Columbia University to analyze language, images and even emoji on Twitter and identify users at risk of harming themselves or others. The algorithms showed promise in identifying escalating online disputes. But he never allowed their use, worried about their resemblance to police surveillance efforts that had enabled profiling more than prevention. “Perhaps there is a smarter person who can figure out how to do it ethically,” he said to me.

For now, the system is failing to anticipate violence—and even, quite often, to convict people whose social media feeds incriminate them. In May, three teens were tried for the murders of Jarell Jackson and Shahjahan McCaskill in Philadelphia. At the time of the shooting, two were 17 and the third was 16. Social media activity formed a key part of the prosecutors’ evidence: Instagram posts and video feeds showed the three defendants driving around in a black SUV seemingly identical to the one that had pulled up alongside Jackson’s car. Other posts showed two of them holding a gun that matched the description of one used in the shooting. After a day of deliberations, the jury acquitted them of murder, finding two of the defendants guilty only of weapons charges. The verdict left the victims’ families reeling. “For me and my family, [the trial] was like a seven-day funeral,” Monique Jackson, Jarell’s mother, told me. Afterward, the detective who had investigated the murders speculated to her that jurors on such cases often struggle to grasp the basic mechanics of social media and how essential it is to the interactions of young people. As Patton put it to me: “What we under­estimate time and time again is that social media isn’t virtual versus real life. This is life.”

With all the technology we have now documenting what bad guys were up to, cops should be closing a higher percentage of murder cases and prosecutors should be winning more slam dunk guilty verdicts. But that’s not happening.

[Comment at Unz.com]


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