Facebook Case Study: Online Violence

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Introduction

One of the evident outcomes related to technological progress is the development of mass communication. People find it interesting and easy to communicate online, exchange information, share their opinions, and spread news without thinking either it is good or bad. People believe that they become free from boundaries and limitations as soon as they join the web and create their judgments. However, at the same time, millions of people cannot understand how dependent on media they become. On the one hand, social media promotes education and job opportunities for youth worldwide (Ali, Iqbal, & Iqbal, 2016). On the one hand, there is a thought that young people who spend hours online are at risk of violent behaviors and associated depressive symptoms (Gansner, 2017). In Bangladesh, several cases of violence were originated from Facebook posts, which resulted in several deaths and multiple hurting (Minar & Naher, 2018). Many theories of mass communication exist to analyze behavioral changes due to online activities, and framing theory is one of them. The study will preview journal articles, reports from trustworthy agencies, and books. These sources are suitable because they try to provide accurate information on statistics and theory. In this paper, this theoretical background will be used to investigate the relationship between violence and Facebook posts among young people.

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Literature Review

In modern literature, much attention is paid to the impact of media on people regarding their age, occupation, social status, and other characteristics. In this case study, Facebook is defined as one of the most popular media content for young people to use all over the world (Minar & Naher, 2018). The status of this social media type continues improving in both developed and developing countries for communication purposes and sharing their life events. However, in addition to a variety of opportunities, access to social media is characterized by fraud, cyber violence, and other risks (Peterson & Densley, 2017; Sun & Wang, 2016). Therefore, to make sure that Facebook posts do not cause actual harm or, at least, try to predict serious negative outcomes, framing theory and the analysis of real case studies are recommended.

The Worth of Mass Communication

In their intention to create equal relationships, people promote mass communication as a means to impart information. According to Hanson (2017), “communication is an interaction that allows individuals, groups, and institutions to share their ideas” (p. 5). When a small group of people decides to communicate online, they establish certain rules in terms of which they can post and give feedback. Mass communication is a “society-wide communication process,” meaning that national or international standards are expected to be developed (Hanson, 2017, p. 6). There are many ways of how this type of communication may be organization, and the use of media is one of the options. The choice of the language of the media depends on cultures, traditions, and religions, which identify the required flow of knowledge, emotional experiences, and messages (Zheltukhina, Klushina, Ponomarenko, Vasilkova, & Dzyubenko, 2017). In addition to freedom and unlimited volumes of information, such benefits of mass communication as increased creativity, well-developed social life, and the possibility to break geographical challenges cannot be ignored. Facebook introduces media content concerning its users’ needs and demands, but it is not always possible to control the quality of posts.

Theoretical Framework

Social networks such as Facebook allow people with similar ideas to connect regardless of distance, promoting such behaviors to improve user engagement. Marichal (2016) highlights how these practices can lead to the formation of tribal communities based on shared experiences, often ethnic or nationalistic ones. These groups can then engage in a verbal conflict with those that hold radically different opinions, possibly escalating into threats later on. Blankenship (2019) notes that Facebook has contributed to political division and that the messaging on it regarding controversial topics tends to be highly polarized. With that said, many different causes can lead people to form a community and express opposition to another one. Lunstrum (2017) describes the example of how the dislike of rhino poachers has led to calls to remove their human rights while assigning them to the animals. The high number of degrees of separation between online statements and real-world incidents can lead people to express threats where they would not otherwise.

Facebook Threats

Violence in media turns out to be a serious issue for consideration today. There are many examples of how online users are exposed to violent behaviors and follow the same steps in real life. For example, Minar and Naher (2018) discussed violence that was originated from Facebook in 2016, when a post about Islam led to an attack on the Hindus and destroyed more than 150 homes. Gansner (2017) explained Facebook Live videos as one of the potential sources of gang violence and serious crimes. It was investigated and proved that teens who find it interesting and even obligatory to like their peers’ pictures on Facebook are likely to develop various traits that are associated with violence (Gansner, 2017). Facebook users depend on this social platform because of different reasons, and the parties who are interested in violence promotion can rely on people’s satisfaction with the services. Sun and Wang (2016) indicate that Facebook allows users the possibility of accepting advertisements “in a non-force manner” (p. 287). It means that poorly aware young people are exposed to several unknown threats that could provoke violence.

Framing in Facebook Posts

Today, many theories for understanding mass media communication are introduced. The emergence of unsafe or even dangerous pages on Facebook is hard to control even by the best-prepared experts due to such concepts as confidentiality, anonymity, and user freedoms. However, several methods to analyze people’s activities online exist, and a framing approach developed by Entman at the beginning of the 1990s is one of them (Guenther, Ruhrmann, Bischoff, Penzel, & Weber, 2020). This theory describes what people think about news and online posts within a familiar context based on four main points, the communicator, the message, the receiver, and the culture (Guenther et al., 2020). According to a framing approach, people find it normal to base their choices on what they find online. Therefore, it is theoretically appropriate to expect violent behaviors from people who read, watch, and respond to violent posts.

Media Analysis

Taking into consideration the offered background, qualitative research about the promotion of violence among young people who use Facebook content can be developed. To analyze the chosen media content (Facebook posts), it is necessary to identify the main data collection method. Today, it is not easy to find the required content online. Therefore, the investigation of the Facebook media platform is the first step. Such keywords as “suicide,” “murder,” “killing, and “abuse” are used for a search to identify 20 violent posts (videos, messages, or music). In addition to the presence of the defined terms in the post, inclusive criteria should be the age of users (between 15 and 25 years) and their gender (both males and females).

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With that said, Facebook’s stringent content policies make searching for posts directly challenging because most of the time, any offending material will have been removed by automated tools or moderators. Moreover, the anonymity provided by the Internet will make the investigation of the associations between a post’s author and violent actions challenging. The author does not have the resources to conduct such an investigation, especially in multiple cases. As such, they have chosen to analyze several cases of known violent incidents that were associated with Facebook threats and publicized in the media. In doing so, they can save a massive amount of effort and conduct a more in-depth analysis of the specific association.

Based on the findings, the researcher could identify important topics and secondary keywords that they could use to identify violent rhetoric on Facebook. Most of the company’s content removal policies are automatic and rely on the incidence of specific words. As such, people have found ways to bypass them through a large variety of indirect threats and words that the filter does not consider severe enough. As Facebook’s moderation policies concerning such cases are kept unclear, it is challenging to identify the entirety of possible causes. However, the review provides an adequate perspective for an initial qualitative inquiry, and more robust quantitative methods that use big data analysis can be used later.

The analysis of circumstances surrounding each post will help to identify the attitudes toward the offered behaviors. Qualitative content analysis is a research method where the interpretation of the content is developed from a subjective point of view. A focused approach will be used in this case study because of the necessity to apply framing theory to the concept of violence throughout Facebook and use the already available findings on this topic. The next step in media analysis will be the identification and definition of variables for a coding procedure. The classification of cases will show if violent Facebook posts provoke violence or other attitudes like (disgust, regret, disappointment, or happiness among young users. The researcher should read and study the selected communication artifacts and use an automatic search for the words used for coding. In general, it is expected to gather a variety of opinions about violent posts and compare the comments to understand if this media content is a potential source of violence for society.

Results

The study has been able to find some interpersonal threats of violence on Facebook that were associated with violent incidents. They varied in severity, with some including claims such as “I will cut you in pieces.” With that said, the threats would rarely be carried out precisely as they were stated. For example, the author of the threat above was involved in a family feud that involved shooting at windows and house pipe bombing attempts. In many other cases, those issuing the threats did not put them into practice, whether because they could not or because they never intended to follow through. Often, the threats would be highly unlikely to have any practical implications, particularly when they targeted prominent politicians. An overwhelming majority of the posts that were targeted at a specific person followed this paradigm.

One prominent phenomenon among youth is challenging others to fights, boasting about the harm that they would do to the other person. These challenges are framed in terms of choices to risk one’s health or reputation, with the former often being more important than the latter for young people. This variety of threats tends to be nonspecific, involving statements such as “rough you up,” as well as some more vulgar variants. It is challenging to evaluate the validity of such threats, as the people who engage in them may live a considerable distance away from each other. However, at least some of these incidents likely resulted in violence, especially among younger participants. A more detailed analysis of differences in violence depending on the online expressions of such intent should be left to a subsequent quantitative investigation. There are too many possible factors, such as the decline in Facebook usage among young people and the various circumstances that surround local violence, to make any determinations at the moment.

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Group conflicts and violence display a clearer association, as the author has been able to find organized outlets of information on the subject. For example, there are many pages of the extremist Antifa movement on Facebook and those that oppose them, with posts and videos such as “ANTIFA Scumbag Gets Punched In The Face By Trump Supporter.” The posts there appear to frame the opposition as having a variety of negative attributes, such as incompetence and active malice. There is ample video evidence of acts of ideological violence that take place between such groups. Their existence can be seen as the promotion of such incidents, as the side that wins the confrontation generally does not condemn the posts in the comments but rather approves them. In effect, the groups actively promote violence and try to protect their members who engage in it from the law. It should be noted that they do not actively promote those who commit such acts because of the anonymity that accompanies these protection measures.

Many of the violent threats against politicians that were mentioned above can also be attributed to inter-group tensions. Comments to such posts often involve powerful negative sentiment against the other tribe or prominent figures that represent it: “too bad the red-headed bitch wasn’t bludgeoned.” This phenomenon is not endemic in the United States and takes place in other nations, as well. With that said, due to the language barrier, the author was only able to confirm such tendencies in several other nations, such as the United Kingdom and Israel. The reviewed posts involved threats against specific ethnicities, the practitioners of particular religions, and people with opposing political affiliations. Once again, these factors were the cause of tensions before the advent of the Internet. However, it is now easier for members of these groups to learn about the activities of their allies or opposition due to Facebook.

Discussion

Overall, concerning personal threats, the study has found no evidence that they directly contribute to the proliferation of violent incidents. In the few confirmed cases, the actions may be attributed to existing conflicts that continued in the online environment. People without an established relationship are unlikely to come into contact with each other or display enough hostility to go through with their claims. When framed in the terms provided by Guenther et al. (2020), it is possible to say that to motivate themselves to commit a dangerous and illegal act, they have to know enough about the communicator as well as their culture. Disagreement with the message will usually only result in violence if the person had mental issues before seeing them. Moreover, people who are likely to be violent against another person would likely not express it online.

One likely reason is that in many English-speaking nations, the police are likely to investigate such threats and consider them to be evidence. People who intended to commit violence toward others would try to avoid any implication to the effect. Moreover, since the Internet is associated with distance and safety because of anonymity and the lack of physical response, people are prone to exaggerating. This tendency is particularly prominent in cases of fight challenges, where people will often promise extensive bodily harm but fail to follow through or appear at the location. Overall, Facebook does not appear to enhance the incidence of interpersonal violence scenarios in a meaningful manner. Most direct threats are swiftly deleted or prosecuted by law in the United States and other English-speaking countries. As such, over time, most people have learned not to express sentiments against people whom they can realistically hurt online.

However, inter-group violence is subject to a different set of rules and tendencies because it adds a set of additional elements to the framing. The recipient of the message will now have some understanding of a shared culture, in which the communicator is a part of an opposing group that disagrees with them in many aspects. As in the situation discussed by Minar and Naher (2018), a line of separation can be drawn between allies and enemies. As a result, a similar situation to that described by Lunstrum (2017) emerges, where sufficiently aggravated people can call for violence against others and deny them their human rights. Dehumanization of the opposition takes place, making violence more acceptable in their minds and likely increasing the probability of violence.

An additional concern is that with the advent of Facebook and similar social media, like-minded individuals and groups can find each other and communicate. Through Facebook Live, people can share violent incidents with high amounts of detail, making the medium a powerful tool of influence, as described by Gansner (2017). Moreover, groups such as Antifa can communicate and cooperate easily, which makes it easier for them to coordinate over large areas and organize events such as violent protests. People with similar leanings who are disconnected physically can then follow the example set by these groups and join them or organize local gangs. As such, in this sense, Facebook can contribute to the escalation of the conflict by increasing the number of potential and active participants in large-scale fights.

There is likely no way to prevent this variety of escalation other than large-scale censorship measures that would likely create more issues than they resolve. The harmful communications discussed in this study are characterized by powerful tribal associations, where the opinions of people outside of it are either disregarded or received with hostility. People who are most likely to engage in violence will also probably be at the ideological extreme of their group and be hostile to those who belong to it but oppose their more aggressive views.

Conclusion

Overall, a shift in focus is necessary that deemphasizes extremism and encourages moderate, less violent views that reduce the numbers of extremists. However, the author does not know of a policy that would enable the creation of such a framework. Future researchers should discuss approaches that would continue engaging people while reducing the association between Facebook and violence. As a media communication professional, the author would recommend their clients to deal with the moderates in each faction and attempt to isolate them from the extremists. Members who have reached the point of violence are unlikely to agree to anything that does not match their views.

References

Ali, A., Iqbal, A., & Iqbal, K. (2016). Effects of social media on youth: A case study in University of Sargohda. Advanced Research, 4(11), 369-372. Web.

Blankenship, L. (2019). Changing the subject: A theory of rhetorical empathy. Louisville, CO: University Press of Colorado.

Gansner, M. E. (2017). “The Internet made me do it” – Social media and potential for violence in adolescents. Psychiatric Times, 34(9). Web.

Guenther, L., Ruhrmann, G., Bischoff, J., Penzel, T., & Weber, A. (2020). Strategic framing and social media engagement: Analyzing memes posted by the German Identitarian Movement on Facebook. Social Media+ Society, 6(1), 1-13. Web.

Hanson, R. E. (2017). Mass communication: Living in a media world (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Lunstrum, E. (2017). Feed them to the lions: Conservation violence goes online. Geoforum, 79, 134-143. Web.

Marichal, J. (2016). Facebook democracy: The architecture of disclosure and the threat to public life. New York, NY: Routledge.

Minar, M. R., & Naher, J. (2018). Violence originated from Facebook: A case study in Bangladesh. Web.

Peterson, J., & Densley, J. (2017). Cyber violence: What do we know and where do we go from here? Aggression and Violent Behavior, 34, 193-200. Web.

Sun, J., & Wang, H. (2016). Research on the negative influence of mobile social network: A case study of Facebook. International Journal of Hybrid Information Technology, 9(2), 285-298. Web.

Zheltukhina, M. R., Klushina, N. I., Ponomarenko, E. B., Vasilkova, N. N., & Dzyubenko, A. I. (2017). Modern media influence: Mass culture-mass consciousness-mass communication. XLinguae Journal, 10(4), 96-105. Web.

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