The role of social media in our everyday lives acts as a reinforcement of our social importance and caters to our inherent needs to be included and essentially liked for our personality. Further, this is why many people feel the need to constantly be updating their statuses and informing all those in their social media circles about daily activities and thoughts they feel encompass and display who they are. We live in a culture where social acceptance is further and further being found primarily online and the persona that is put forth and portrayed in digital media outlets is who one truly comes to be. When applying this to the minds and activities of criminals, they too want the same reassurance and attention that social media offers when posting and interacting. Though sad, there is a now platforms for criminals to report on their crimes and inform the public in their own way, by their own will.
Criminals Become their Own Citizen Journalists
With evolving technology and the many outlets it provides, people feel safer, more confident and more entitled when talking and communicating via social media. This seems to be even more the case for criminals when talking about their crimes and plans for action via social media. When Thaxton, a Pittsburg resident, took upon hostages in a high rise downtown, he seemingly felt safe posting his requests and intentions via his own personal Facebook. It was an affirmative detailing of what he was doing, why he was doing it and in his own words. There no longer was a journalistic filter in the way the event was being captured, for Thaxton was reporting the events himself, for the public, from his own accounts. He was bringing the media attention right to his specific crime and his intentions.
With similar yet varying intent, Derek Medina, a resident of South Miami, shot his wife after a domestic dispute and further posted his confession and reasoning for his actions on his personal Facebook. His confession stated,
“Rip Jennifer Alfonso. I’m going to prison or death sentence for killing my wife love you guys miss you guys take care Facebook people you will see me in the news my wife was punching me and I am not going to stand anymore with the abuse so I did what I did I hope u understand me.”
The confession is vague in reasoning but may have been what Medina believed would have been the best statement to justify his actions. In being able to post first on social media what he did and why, he takes on an advantage by only showing and telling the public what he feels is needed to be said. He is definitely putting himself in the better light and not retelling any of the details that would have put him in a bad light. He is essentially reinforcing a persona and in doing so, justifying his actions.
Power That You Can Not Deny
Because there was a lack of filters detailing both these events, it allowed for the criminals to become the seeker as well as the receiver for most of the attention being brought forth by their actions. All the comments and interpretations of their actions were revolved around primarily their social media postings. For Thaxton specifically, he created a ruthless persona in his own mind and this persona was reciprocated on social media. In posting on his own personal profile, he is essentially bringing the notion and reassurance of likes and shares to a twisted yet parallel extreme. If one can’t find the approval they seek in the traditional sense that most people do in real life or on social media platforms, there is a need to act out. Thaxton uses social media to directly achieve and focus the satisfaction that is desired. The action to post on social media was attention seeking and power driven, whether that was intentional or subconscious. In being in charge of the information that was given, the criminal takes on a sense of power and manipulation in the moment. It is an extreme portrayal of a fixed self, intertwined with a mixed sense of self. On the other hand for Medina, he may have foreseen his actions of murder would lead to immense trouble and evident incarceration, and in the midst of confusion and heated emotions, he took to social media first to display a fixed apology. His sense of power came from the way he wanted the information of his wife’s death and murder relayed. He had power in what people would hear and how they would first hear it. The initial shock would be in his hands and through his words, behind a safe persona through a Facebook profile.
Changing the Way Criminals are Caught
Though social media seems to bring realities of crime and the minds of the criminals to the forefront, it also helps in solving crimes and finding criminals. The need to be socially accepted and to create a specific online persona may cloud peoples’ judgement. Criminals may forget that what is posted online can be seen by essentially anyone and can be shared in unimaginable amounts. Channel 4 News in St.Louis used drug dealer Rashaud Paul as an example. He constantly posted about his drug use and drug sales on social media sites such as Twitter; including photographs of the criminal in action and doing the drugs himself. Though Rashaud may have seen the postings as an opportunity to increase income, create a persona to be envied, etc. when being charged with drug dealing, the Twitter account was enough to come up with a case against the criminal no matter what he claimed to be true in court. Rashaud may have felt safe behind the computer, mobile device and under a specific username, but in the real world that can be traced back to a real life person and be furthered to real world consequences.
Similarly, First Coast News did a report on how videos on YouTube and World Star Hip Hop may feature videos of injustice and crimes. Further, most of these videos are highlighted as conquests and seen as entertainment by the initial posters. The article states that in this way the dynamics of criminal justice are changing. For example, previously, the worst that offenders could do was to confess to crimes by accident and say the wrong things at the wrong times. However now there can essentially be contradicting video proof to what is being said by the offender. Both reporters do a good job in stating that officials are not out dated when it comes to social media. People may feel safe behind these online personas, but police officials are more and more using and becoming comfortable with social media platforms to track, charge and find criminals and criminal activity. Social media in and of itself is also fairly new and consequences to constant social media usage and public display of personal statements is not yet defined. Society is still becoming accustomed to privacy settings online, the depths of internet searches, etc. and without complete knowledge of the capacities of the internet, there is no complete grasping of how it can be used to incriminate and find individuals.