Violence and crime do not have an area code nor an IP address, and the prevalence of ephemeral and anonymous social applications continues to provide a breeding ground for inappropriate information. In recent months, we have seen an increasing amount of popular cases come to light where individuals are taking to social media to wreak havoc, bully others, and/or post items that have resulted in severe consequences. The delineation of our online lives and ‘personal’ lives is complicated and blurry at best. We are now regularly hearing of people losing a job as a result of a social media post, being prosecuted for false terrorism threats, or arrested for the undertones of their emoji use. The constant surveillance of celebrities, athletes, and politicians by paparazzi became a norm but pales in comparison to the harassing nature of online communities at present day. With social media, everyone is fair game. We all have the potential to be more easily scrutinized and judged for our behavior online and subsequently our offline personality. In this month’s #UMichChat, we decided to bring together leading minds in social media behavioral analysis, youth violence, cyber crimes, and investigative journalism to discuss these complicated and weighty topics.

What are the consequences of our online behavior? Why is the ‘filter’ so low in these spaces? Are these channels facilitating falsified identities and parody accounts, or are they better used as a source of empowerment for unrepresented groups? What is the role of social media in today’s hustle and bustle world, and most importantly, who is going take responsibility?

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The sensitive and timely nature of our topic, Violence, Crime, and Social Media, has a wide appeal and therefore allowed us to draw off a variety of knowledge sets. Our panel consisted of Cliff Lampe, Associate Professor at the School of Information, Desmond Patton, Associate Professor at the School of Social Work studying internet gang banging, Detective Sergeant Jay Poupard from the Michigan State Police cyber crime unit, and Eric Strauss, producer for ABC news and a University of Michigan Knight Wallace Fellow. This diverse panel set the stage for our community to openly discuss the dichotomy of social media as a tool to prevent injustice, but also how it could serve as a catalyst for crime and violence.

As always, we asked our online audiences to contribute questions for our panelists ahead of time, and then actively responded to inquiries that took place throughout the course of the #UMichChat. The result was a dynamic dialogue that spanned ideas on responsibility, accountability, anonymity, and the relationship between the user and technology. You can follow the complete conversation on Storify here!

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By tying in current hot topics at neighboring universities regarding Yik Yak and discussions in the news, we were able to provide real-world solutions and tangible assistance to help not only provoke critical thinking but also protect our friends and family online. Our panelists tackled questions that revolved around personal usage, freedom of speech, and social user behavior. The great thing about #UMichChat is that it is more than a ‘Q & A,’ as additional community members participate they also provide their own opinions and insights, creating a larger conversation. The summary analysis at the end then pools the collective dialogue into a resource with longevity that can be retained and used in a variety of ways.

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Throughout our April hour-long chat, 509 posts were generated with a reach exceeding 200,000 people and over 5 million impressions. As our chats continue to grow, we are placing an increased emphasis on who they serve and how we are strategically bringing awareness to important topics.  We would love to hear your thoughts on future subjects and on the items discussed during Violence, Crime and Social Media. Tweet us using #UMichChat, and be sure to join us May 1st as we host Twitter all-star @JohnDingell, former Congressman from Michigan’s 12th District and the longest serving U.S. representative in what is sure to be an exciting conversation!


This post was written by Yasin Id-Deen, #UMSocial Media Manager 

Contributions by Katie Szymanski, Communication and Digital Studies senior; #UMSocial editorial intern. #StaySocial with her: @KatieSkii

Editing by @nikkisunstrum, Director of Social Media at the University of Michigan