Social Media Causes More Fights Than Gangs (In One District)

Personal conflict originating on social media causes more fights than gang violence in schools in Montgomery County, Maryland, according to a report by WTOP, a local news service (full disclosure: my family just moved to Montgomery County, which makes this a subject of particular interest).

WTOP interviewed Wayne Ferrell, a “cluster security coordinator” for the county’s public schools, who explained: “We’re dealing with so many issues day in and day out, and acts of violence and students being attacked based on what’s out there on their social network.” No causes were singled out but the report implies that the disputes are of a personal nature. 

In another classic case of unintended consequences, Ferrell also claimed that the combatants are taking advantage of a new, lighter disciplinary enforcement aimed at rehabilitation: “Kids are now starting to realize ‘You know, I can actually get away with doing certain things and it’s not going to be that serious’.”

While personal contretemps may cause more fights than gangs, social media also plays a prominent role in gang conflict. In New York City police attributed multiple wide-ranging gang busts to the gang members’ own social media activity. In one 2012 case NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly noted: “Because of these individuals’ insatiable desire to brag about what they did, these investigators were able to draw a virtual map of their activities and bring them to justice.”

Kelly added that the NYPD “followed gang members on Twitter, on Facebook and on YouTube. By linking their boastings and postings on social media to active cases and other crime, these officers were able to build this case.”

Some studies have suggested a correlation between social media use and violence generally, although they do not distinguish between gang-related and personal violence. In a 2010 study published by Case Western Reserve's School of Medicine, excessive use of social media – specifically, "hypertexting" (sending more than 120 messages per school day) and "hypernetworking" (spending more than three hours per day on sites like Facebook) – were linked to dangerous health problems and antisocial behavior in teens.

Among the Case Western findings, teens who hypertext are twice as likely to have tried alcohol; 3.5 times more likely to have had sex; 40% more likely to have tried cigarettes; 41% more likely to have used illicit drugs; 43% more likely to be binge drinkers; 55% more likely to have been in a physical fight; and 90% more likely to report four or more sexual partners. Hypernetworkers were 60% more likely to have four or more sexual partners; 62% more likely to have tried cigarettes; 69% more likely to be binge drinkers; 69% more likely to have had sex; 79% more likely to have tried alcohol; 84% more likely to have used illicit drugs; and 94% more likely to have been in a physical fight.

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