Social media roots of violent acts raises serious questions

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In a lot of ways, social media is awesome. It’s allowed me to reconnect with long-lost friends and make all new ones that I now consider part of my family. Yet it’s also done quite a number on society as well, fueling political division and tearing families and friendships apart as we can no longer truly separate our friends from some of their views.

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Yet we also see those divisions take a much darker turn, one that isn’t political but may actually create far bigger problems.

You see, while most of us either leave our disagreements on social media and simply opt not to associate with people we dislike, some are acting out violently because of those beefs.

Juan Campos has been working to save at-risk teens from gun violence for 16 years.

As a street outreach worker in Oakland, California, he has seen the pull and power of gangs. And he offers teens support when they’ve emerged from the juvenile justice system, advocates for them in school, and, if needed, helps them find housing, mental health services, and treatment for substance abuse.

But, he said, he’s never confronted a force as formidable as social media, where small boasts and disputes online can escalate into deadly violence in schoolyards and on street corners.

Teens post photos or videos of themselves with guns and stacks of cash, sometimes calling out rivals, on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or TikTok. When messages go viral, fuelled by “likes” and comments, the danger is hard to contain, Campos said.

“It’s hundreds of people on social media, versus just one or two people trying to guide youth in a positive way,” he said. Sometimes his warnings are stark, telling kids, “I want to keep you alive.” But, he said, “it doesn’t work all the time.”

Many disputes stem from perceived disrespect among insecure young adults who may lack impulse control and conflict-management skills, said LJ Punch, a trauma surgeon and director of the Bullet-Related Injury Clinic in St Louis.

“Social media is an extremely powerful tool for metastasising disrespect,” Punch said. And of all the causes of gun violence, social media-fuelled grudges are “the most impenetrable”.

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Yet, here’s the thing that I can’t get past. These are teenagers. Where are the adults?

When my son was a teen, we didn’t monitor everything he put on social media, but we kept an eye on enough that we had an idea of what he was up to.

Now, if we’re talking about “teens” as 18- and 19-year-old people, that would be different, yet we know good and well that it’s not just legal adults who happen to also be teenagers. We’re talking about actual kids who are acting like this.

And that means there’s an adult somewhere that’s ostensibly responsible for them.

So where the hell are they? Why aren’t they jerking a knot in the little smack talkers, saying stuff like, “You’re gonna do what? The only killin’ you need to be doing is killing those books and getting your grades up!”

We don’t need laws, we clearly need parents.

Especially as these aren’t kids who can lawfully buy a firearm in the first place. Imagine what would happen if parents in our inner cities–the ones currently unengaged. I know that’s not all parents in these neighborhoods–suddenly waking up and realizing that if they want to keep their kids alive long enough to have families of their own, they need to start watching what their children are up to on social media and in the real world.

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What we’d see is no need for new regulations but a sudden drop in the homicide rate and a drop in gang activity.

Yet even suggesting such a thing is typically beyond what your average anti-gunner can comprehend.

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