In recent years, city leaders, law enforcement, and news outlets have warned that digital social media—platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram—are amplifying the frequency and severity of urban violence. In turn, police departments and prosecutors increasingly rely on social media content to secure arrests, convictions, and sentences. Despite this development, however, there is surprisingly scant empirical data capable of disentangling the relationship between social media and violence. Drawing on five years of ethnographic fieldwork alongside gang-associated youth and their peer networks on Chicago’s South Side, combined with interviews with public defenders and analyses of court cases throughout the US, I propose a framework to begin understanding this relationship more systematically and sociologically. Integrating concepts from new media scholarship, I consider the process of “context collapse” as a key mechanism that: (1) constrains and facilitates physical violence, (2) generates new opportunities for informal social control among community members, but simultaneously (3) provides law enforcement with new resources for punishing impoverished residents of color. More generally, these processes suggest the need for scholars to reconsider the role of social media—and the mechanism of context collapse—in transforming the processes and assumptions underlying many of our longstanding theories of interaction and inequality in urban life.
Blumer Room - 402 Social Sciences Building