Politics, Moderate



Don't believe everything you see on the internet

Esther J. Cepeda on

Another technique called "catching lacking" -- this one believed to be the likeliest to spur violent retaliation -- involves confronting a rival when he is with family or in another setting in which violence wouldn't necessarily be expected, and then recording and disseminating footage of the target not taking the bait.

While all of this is notable social science in and of itself, the value of Stuart's ingenious study is to show that there are methods to the madness of the streets -- and they're often employed to prevent bloodshed, not exacerbate it.

It's a distinction that needs to be better understood. Not only by the police officers who patrol America's most violent neighborhoods, but by the computer programmers who create the algorithm-powered databases that try to quantify and predict how likely someone is to commit a crime.

An ex-convict, for example, might act tough on social media in order to avoid imperiling his probation with an attack by a rival yet have this precaution misinterpreted by court personnel who mistakenly overestimated the relationship between his aggressive posts and his desire to engage in offline violence.

Stuart warns against law enforcement reading too much into social-media posts, suggesting that nuanced and contextualized analyses of virtual activity should be the norm instead of assuming that there is a direct correlation between performative violence on social media and real-life violence on the street.


Pro tip: Keep your eyes wide open on social media -- and don't believe everything you see on the internet.


Esther Cepeda's email address is estherjcepeda@washpost.com, or follow her on Twitter: @estherjcepeda.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group




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