Police investigators here and across the country are concerned about the growing ties between social media and youth homicides. Just connect the dots. In many cases the victim in a shooting was previously warned or threatened on Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, and others. Mothers are literally buying bus tickets to get junior out of town. When someone is gunning for your 15-year-old, a trip to grandma in Des Moines seems like a timely decision, one that can save a child's life.
According to one recent study, there has been a 91% increase in homicides among 15- to 19-year-olds between 2014 and 2021. An increase that far exceeds the overall rise in homicides over that period. You'd have to be blind or have the last name of Zuckerberg to deny that one of the most volatile violence-accelerants today is social media--most apparent in the continuing surge of youth homicide.
While the affects of the "Summer of Love" and the George Floyd riots spurred shootings and looting, those issues seem to have died down in the hearts and minds of destructive demonstrators and shooters. But, according to those who investigate murders in Indianapolis, the driver of violence that shows no sign of decreasing is the smack talk that goes on in social media circles. The constant thread seems to be that victims often are disrespected, attacked, warned, or directly threatened on social media prior to an attack.
Things that are good can easily be turned into things that are so very bad. In an age where social norms have been discarded, social media--once designed to connect people--has become a creature that causes inestimable harm for some. An investigation by the Wall Street Journal revealed that Facebook was aware of mental health risks linked to the use of its Instagram app but kept those findings secret. Internal research by the social media giant found that all Instagram teenage users linked use of the app to experiences of anxiety and depression. And, it isn’t the first evidence of social media’s harms. For years, watchdog groups have identified Facebook and Instagram as avenues for cyberbullying leading to youth suicide and reports have linked TikTok to dangerous and antisocial behavior, including a recent spate of illegal activity--not the least of which has increased death among children.
When did we lose control? While some continue to take photos of their grandchildren or latest culinary effort to post and share with friends, there is another side of the social media equation that has children engaged in life and death struggles. Our parents knew what we read, what we ate, and what classes we took. Our school grades were either shown with pride or we hid them under the stack of mail so that we wouldn't be in the room when they opened the report card. How times have changed!
Moms and Dads with tweens and teens have to be more vigilant than ever. Police usually find out about cyberbullying after the crime has been committed. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that's probably too late.