Collective violence online: When streets gangs use social media

Densley, J. (2020). Collective violence online: When streets gangs use social media. In C. A. Ireland, M. Lewis, A. C. Lopez, & J. L. Ireland (Eds.), The Handbook of Collective Violence (1st ed., pp. 305–316). Routledge.


Open access: No

Notes: As territory is a central element in gangs, how does it translate into digital territories? Densley discusses various changes in gang members’ attitudes and actions—for instance, social media aids in releasing destructive energy without actually engaging in physical violence. Moreover, attacks on identity and self-worth accumulate and lead to increasing violence. It is also a place to surveil their members, checking who is following the explicit and implicit rules of the gang. Overall, we see how their territory expands, and even gang members in prison can be active through social media.

A key valuable argument here is that violence is historically difficult to perform, explaining why many of us abstain from exercising it. Then, the authors ask: “Why do people post at times deadly and extravagant acts of violence online knowing that in this digital age of perfect remembering, it can and will be used as evidence against them? The simple answer may be because people are watching.” (p. 308). Sharing violence is, at the core, a social act. It is about using anti-social behaviour to connect with others, to be visible and recognized.

Abstract: This chapter examines some of the finer points of the ‘internet banging’ phenomena because they can be overstated, or at the very least oversimplified, by the media and policymakers. It discusses how social media has changed gangs’ relationship with each other and with gang territory and how the internet has created new incentives for gang violence and new avenues for its perpetration, with implications for policy and practice. “County lines” is a term used by the police to describe a growing practice among UK gangs: travelling from major cities to remote rural areas, market towns, or coastal locations in search of new customers for illicit goods and services, especially heroin and crack cocaine. Gangs have long used music videos to present gang life as aspirational. As technology has improved, the look and feel of these videos has changed from amateurish and freeform to professional and crafted.

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