Emerging Technology

BEST OF THE WEB: How social media is making gang violence worse

Patrick Stafford /

Gang violence in the United States city of Chicago has always been a serious problem. But now, a new weapon is emerging in the war: social media.

As this piece over at Wired describes, 500 people in Chicago were killed last year, which is a greater number than Los Angeles or New York. The violence occurs due to the prevalence of gang activity.

But while some might think of gang activity as happening in secret, social media is making these wars far more public. In fact, teenage gang members don’t think anything of making threats or violent statements on Twitter or Facebook.

And as the piece describes, it’s not like the violence is occurring over anything meaningful.

“Similarly, the majority of the violence isn’t strategic but results instead from petty personal exchanges. Young people in embattled Chicago neighborhoods are scared and heavily armed—police seize more guns than the NYPD and LAPD combined, an average of 130 illegal firearms each week.”

“A couple of young guys, plus a disagreement, plus guns equals dead body,” Pollack says bluntly. “These are stupid 17-year-old homicides. That’s the extent of it today.”

More of these disagreements are happening online, Wired reports. So much so the police department is patrolling online activity – and there’s plenty of it.

“Even for an outsider, the online gangosphere isn’t difficult to enter. Sites like TheHoodUp.com and StreetGangs.com host message boards where gangsters openly swap tips and tricks: how much an ounce of weed is worth, how to bribe a cop or judge.”

Of course, the public nature of these comments makes police activity easier. Chicago police now look for posts surrounding specific dates, such as the anniversary of a gang member’s death.

The use of “big data” is often debated in business, but here, it seems to be working – and saving lives by allowing the police to tip off potential victims.

“For a long time, criminal-justice experts have talked about predictive policing—the idea that you can use big data to sniff out crimes before they happen, conjuring up an ethically troublesome future like the one depicted in Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report.”

“But in Chicago and other big cities, police are finding it’s much easier than that. Give people social media and they’ll tell you what they’re about to do.”

What Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is planning next…

It’s been a big year for Amazon and Jeff Bezos. Buying The Washington Post is a big enough accomplishment in and of itself, but working on new tablets and publishing platforms is something which keeps Bezos busy all the time.

In this latest interview with BusinessWeek, the online pioneer delves into several subjects including his current plans – and how he plans to integrate the Washington Post with the rest of his business empire.

But Bezos doesn’t just delve into future plans. He mentions one business tip which could be of use to entrepreneurs hoping to build an empire on their own – he only spends time in areas where he knows he can be of assistance.

I once found myself in a meeting with a room full of international tax experts talking about a dispute between Japanese taxing authorities and American taxing authorities. I was invited to the meeting because it was a large amount of money and in the worst-case scenario we would have had to pay both.

This was many years ago and I can’t even remember how it was resolved. But 30 minutes into the meeting I said, “Look, guys, I know this is an important issue, but it’s not one I can contribute to, so I will bow out.”

It’s always good to know your limits.

What’s in the Steve Jobs time capsule?

Back in the 1980s, a bunch of computer engineers put together a time capsule, with the intention of unearthing it in 2000.

That plan backfired when the surrounding area was landscaped and the original position of the time capsule was lost – until now.

Over at The Atlantic, the publication notes what was in the capsule – and it contains some items you might not expect.

The capsule, it turns out, was decidedly un-Jobsian in one way: It was cluttered. It was packed full of objects — to the extent that it will take some time before the crew can excavate the tube they’ve just excavated. “When the end came off,”Diggers co-host Tim Saylor told CNET, “literally things just poured out. There must be literally thousands of things in there.”

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Patrick Stafford

Patrick Stafford is a freelance journalist and a former deputy editor of SmartCompany.

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