Is Social Media Breeding Monsters?

Is anyone else noticing a pattern these days?

Facebook Postings Prompted Stabbing, Accused’s Sister Says
Facebook argument escalates into real-world crime when boy grabs gun
Facebook gangbanger turns himself in after threatening Brooklyn’s cyber crime-fighting captain
Briton charged over Facebook threats to kill 200 US children
Police investigating Facebook predator
Man pleads guilty to sexually assaulting underage girls he met on Facebook
Tulsa Man Arrested For Using Facebook To Solicit Sex From 12-Year-Old Girl
Facebook Sting Nets Illinois Perv On Federal Rap
FACEBOOK MURDER CASE: Defendant concocted “sinister plot,” prosecutor says

That’s just a handful of posts from the last couple of weeks.  Even I find myself repeatedly asking these days, “is social media creating monsters amongst us?”

But here’s the thing.  It will become increasingly easier for people to point at social media and say, “that’s the culprit,” and before you know it, lawmakers will be talking about bans and protest groups will be demanding sites get shut down.

While social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter have intentionally been used to commit crimes or to stalk and harass victims, it is the behavior of the individuals themselves who are using such sites to conduct such activities that should be the topic of discussion.

Social media is a vehicle.  Before it, there were forums.  And before that, there was email, telephones, and so on. When it comes down to it, individuals bear responsibility for their own actions.  Social media seems to be more of an accelerant – it reveals and speeds up the process of such bad behaviors, and it makes victims more readily available than ever before.

As private companies, Facebook and Twitter do have some vested interest in trying to protect their users to some extent.  And as social media continues to grow, so will the challenges of bad behavior that just skirts the line of being criminal – I imagine both consumer and legal pressures will likely force even more changes to these companies’ policies in the future.

There are days when I dread getting onto Facebook or Twitter.  As someone who monitors a very wide variety of feeds for news and information that are outside of just my own select follows, I probably see more than I’d like to.  It often devolves out there into a sewage pit of trolls, infighting, harassment, stalking, crime and just generally repulsive behavior.  But there are plenty of positives about social media, and it’s up to us to be vigilant and help make sure that those positives continue to shine through. 

Some of that vigilance will have to come from parents being more involved in what their kids are doing online, to prevent them from becoming victims of crimes like those above.  The same goes for ourselves – recognize that some out there do aim to commit crimes and try not to fall into behaviors that can draw you into bad situations.  Some vigilance may have to come from not endorsing certain content that probably shouldn’t be posted – when I
see adult men gawking at young teenage girls on Facebook, I remove them from
my list and tell them so.  Let them feel embarrassed, maybe they’ll stop.  Other vigilance may have to come from recognizing volatile behavior in other individuals and not encouraging certain situations to escalate.  And some of our efforts may have to come from treating others with respect when in disagreement, or – gasp – from not giving a troll the drama he or she is seeking.  No audience, no show, I always say. 

There is definitely a place and a time for pushing back and for exposing bad behavior, and by all means, we should do so when appropriate.  But there are equally many a time for simply walking away.  It betters the community.

I could do a whole analysis on the darker and criminal elements of social media, it’s something I study closely in what I cover as a reporter.  But that’s a longer topic for another day.  In short, it’s largely about the culture.  Only we can change the culture.  If we don’t, you know what so often happens: more rules and laws. 

And this is why we can’t have nice things.

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