Perverse use of social media leads to crime
Social media is a powerful tool used to connect individuals – whether it’s used to connect people with friends, families, or complete strangers. Although social media is still – relatively speaking – in its infancy, it has led to a complete shift in the way we communicate with our publics.
Websites like Facebook and Twitter, as well as mobile devices such as BlackBerries, are reshaping the way we interact with each other. As a whole, this reshaping of communication has benefited society; however when used improperly it has had led to socially unacceptable behaviour. Improper use has even led to some politicians calling for a clampdown on social media sites. However, to do so would be reckless, and absolutely unwarranted.
There are countless instances of social media being used to carry out subversive activities. Take for example the fairly recent trend of ‘flash robs.’ Flash robs are a perversion of flash mobs, the latter which is characterized by a group of people who congregate in a public place and perform an act, then disperse. It’s typically used as a form of commercial advertisement, or used as a form of publicity stunt. These groups are usually organized on Twitter.
A flash rob on the other hand uses the same principles as a flash mob, but is used to commit crimes rather than entertain. Individuals mobilize on Twitter and pick a time and a location, then descend on a store in large numbers to pillage and loot, fleeing the scene before police show up to apprehend them. This tactic leaves the store clerks completely overwhelmed and helpless to protect their merchandise.
As awful as flash robs are, they aren’t the only example of anti-social behavior facilitated by social media. The riots that rocked England are a prime example of social media run amuck. Rioters used Twitter and the BlackBerry Messenger service to plan and coordinate their acts of violence.
An article in The Guardian noted that police promised to track down those suspected of inciting the violence on Twitter, but much of the planning for the disturbances took place in the relatively private world of the BlackBerry Messenger service – a service that makes tracking communication virtually impossible.
Although social media has been used to perpetrate heinous crimes, a clampdown – as was suggested by British Prime Minister David Cameron had called for – is unlikely to occur. As Stuart Thomas wrote, social media was used for good following the England Riots. Twitter groups were used to mobilize cleanup crews for instance.
The same can be said of the aftermath of the Vancouver Riots. Police used social media sites to gather evidence in order to (hopefully) eventually prosecute rioters.
Although social media can – when used in perverse ways – lead to criminal behaviour, on the whole it is still a vital tool that mustn’t be held hostage by the acts of criminals, and shouldn’t be faced with potential clampdowns.