SOCIAL MEDIA IS PERPETUATING THE MYTHS OF VIOLENCE, BUT THE FACTORS FUELING THE INCREASE ARE FAR WIDER
Just hours after Rhyhiem Ainsworth Barton, 17, was shot dead in south London, his friends posted a tribute on social media. The slickly made music video on YouTube lamented the young rapper’s death, but was accompanied by numerous posts apportioning blame for his murder and calling for retribution.
It highlights a growing phenomenon: the use of social media in often glamorising gang violence and fuelling resentment and reprisals from rival groups. Just last month, Scotland Yard Commissioner Cressida Dick spoke out about the exploitation of internet platforms by those bent on violence.
She told us that websites and mobile apps such as YouTube, Snapchat and Instagram were partially to blame for the bloodshed. “There’s definitely something about the impact of social media in terms of people being able to go from slightly angry with each other to ‘fight’ very quickly,” she said.
She added that insults or threats online “makes [violence] faster, it makes it harder for people to cool down. I’m sure it does rev people up”.
Last month, the then home secretary Amber Rudd called on social media companies to do more to restrict such content.
“Some might say this is impossible, but when I called on social media to deal with terrorist content on their platforms, they listened and they took action and I am asking them to do so again because it is the right thing to do,” she said.
“Fighting crime and keeping each other safe isn’t just the responsibility of government, it is everybody’s responsibility.”
The wider fight against violent crime in England and Wales now falls to new Home Secretary Sajid Javid, who will be responsible for implementing the government’s serious violence strategy.
The Home Office is making £40 million in additional funding available to help combat increasing violence, which is up 22% over the past year.
Ministers have been criticised for cuts to police funding in recent years, which have seen 21,000 fewer police officers across England and Wales since 2010.
This means many chief constables are having to make tough choices about the areas in which to invest their resources. For many forces it has resulted in a shift away from crime prevention to a more reactive service.
But in truth, the factors fuelling the increase in violent crime are far wider than just policing resources, they are numerous and complex.
From social deprivation and family breakdowns, to a lack of investment in community activities and outreach programmes, all are playing a part.
The void created by those wider societal failures is now being filled by criminal gangs, profiting from the trade in drugs, using violence to enforce their territory and business interests.
The young and the impressionable are often sucked into this void, encouraged by the myths these gangs peddle around glamour, status and profit.