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Crime in the Tweets. Can Social Networks Make Gangs Even More Angry?

Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

It was a terrible week for Facebook.

First, an investigative series by The Wall Street Journal reported that for years Facebook has been studying how Instagram, which it owns, has been harmful to young users. Among other bombshells, the Journal quoted a leaked internal document that read: “We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls.”

Imagine that as part of Facebook’s advertising plan. Not likely.

In her Senate testimony Tuesday, whistleblower and former Facebook employee Frances Haugen quoted more inside documents and accused the social media giant of putting “profits before people,” comparing it to tobacco companies in addicting youngsters to a toxic product “just like cigarettes.”

“They say explicitly, ‘I feel bad when I use Instagram,’” Haugen said, “‘and yet I can’t stop.’”

By the end of the week, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg was back on the cover of Time magazine, but this time with his face partly covered by an image of a smartphone app asking “Delete Facebook?”

 

Facebook responded to the allegations, as it has before, with denials or various versions of “We’re working on it.”

If so, I hope they and Congress also take a closer, broader look and probe another long-running but too rarely reported menace encouraged by the social networks: street gang violence in cities like Chicago.

The interplay between social networks and gang violence has been widely known since at least 2016. That was when then- interim Chicago police Superintendent John Escalante blamed gang disputes for the spike in violence welling up that year and continuing with painfully little relief ever since.

He described how street conflicts often arise through social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook and Snapchat, where gang members threaten and taunt one another, often escalating beefs to the point where somebody gets shot.

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