September 19, 2013

"Once there was a fight in the classroom, it was just you and that person who had a fight; now on social media, it’s 500,000 people looking at this fight."

"Why are you creating a unit to incriminate and criminalize what they’re doing and lock them up?"

A criticism — by the founder of an organization that works with teenagers — of the NYC police strategy dealing with gangs:
The strategy seeks to exploit the online postings of suspected members and their digital connections to build criminal conspiracy cases against whole groups that might otherwise take years of painstaking undercover work to penetrate. Facebook, officers like to say now, is the most reliable informer.


Operation Crew Cut melds intelligence gathered by officers on the street with online postings, allowing the department to track emerging conflicts in a neighborhood before they erupt into violence and, when shootings do occur, to build conspiracy cases against those responsible. But the scrutiny online has raised concern that idle chatter by teenagers might be misinterpreted by the police.
We're told that opposition to the "stop and frisk" tactic has led to this, but I find that a little hard to believe. Why wouldn't the police use both approaches if they could? Also, I wonder what the police are really doing, since publicly revealing a tactic is itself a tactic. From the above-linked NYT article:
Officers follow crew members on Twitter and Instagram, or friend them on Facebook, pretending to be young women to get around privacy settings that limit what can be seen. They listen to the lyrical taunts of local rap artists, some affiliated with crews, and watch YouTube for clues to past trouble and future conflicts. Party announcements posted to social media draw particular attention: officers scour the invitation lists, some of which explicitly include members of opposing crews, beseeching them to “leave the beef at home,” said Assistant Commissioner Kevin O’Connor, who heads a police unit focused on social media and youth gangs.
Presumably, the idea is to deter criminal activity by creating the impression that the police are everywhere. That's very easy to do, once everyone's gone on line for their friendship (and criminal conspiracy). I wonder how many police department employees have jobs that consist of reading kids' Facebook postings and analyzing rap lyrics. Do you think that's creepy/offensive surveillance or clever and important work? Do you think it's a good anti-crime tactic to paranoia amongst vast swaths of NYC teenagers who might otherwise socialize on line?

4 comments:

Matthew Sablan said...

If you want to commit a crime and not get caught, don't do it in front of police. Social media? That's in front of police. If we don't arrest people who flagrantly break the law and rub the public's nose in it, it deteriorates our ability to arrest other people -- from a moral authority PoV.

If we KNOW someone has committed a crime, we have to act. Or: Is it only a crime if certain people are hurt? Do we not care about children in gangs killing other children in gangs? After all: "The strategy seeks to exploit the online postings of suspected members and their digital connections to build criminal conspiracy cases against whole groups that might otherwise take years of painstaking undercover work to penetrate" sounds exactly like what the NSA does, only with public instead of private information.

Also: Erica Ford is an idiot to correlate a school yard fist fight with gang violence and retribution for murders, the cycle of violence we all learned about in Beowulf.

This, though, makes me laugh: "Officers follow crew members on Twitter and Instagram, or friend them on Facebook, pretending to be young women to get around privacy settings that limit what can be seen." If gangs are falling for that, I'm a young Nigerian prince who needs some money to move money.

Also, this quote, sounds like someone fed them that line: "At Brooklyn’s Finest Barbershop in Brownsville one day late last month, two young men recently indicted on felony conspiracy charges in a takedown of the Hoodstarz and the Wave Gang crews said the new approach by officers amounted to a virtual stop-and-frisk effort." How much of that is an actual quote, and how much of that is creative license by the author?

Tibore said...

"Do you think that's creepy/offensive surveillance or clever and important work?"

False dilemma. It's definitely creepy surveillance, but unfortunately necessary due to the amount of time people in those age groups stay online.

That said, there are ways to avoid surveillance online. No one has to use Facebook to communicate. The plus of seeing people be open on social sites will turn into the negative of police and other observers being stuck there when people go to other, more private venues that will inevitably come out. Such migrations have happened before: In filesharing, after Napster the free downloading segment of society went to other alternatives (eMule and the like). Then eventually they started using BitTorrent (which has encrypting abilities to lock out surveillance but by itself cannot truly hide you), and nowadays pay close attention to anonymizing methods and services, some very old (simple, single-step anonymizing proxies, or Usenet binaries), some new (Tor network multistage proxying for source obsfucation), but all with the eye of keeping outsiders from knowing what you're doing.

The very nature of how the internet works prevents that from being perfectly impenetrable, but at the same time a lot is accomplished by simply getting out of the "wide open and everyone can see you" parts of the internet. The lesson here is that the move towards anonymizing activity has already happened once, and it won't take much for it to happen again. While definitely creepy, social media monitoring has a definite shelf-life. It'll only be effective for as long as the people being monitored choose to use Facebook. And law enforcement surveillance is precisely the thing that will push many out.

David Davenport said...

Then eventually they started using BitTorrent (which has encrypting abilities to lock out surveillance but by itself cannot truly hide you), and nowadays pay close attention to anonymizing methods and services, some very old (simple, single-step anonymizing proxies, or Usenet binaries), some new (Tor network multistage proxying for source obsfucation), but all with the eye of keeping outsiders from knowing what you're doing.

Da youfs in question aren't techno-nerds.

SGT Ted said...

The fights are being posted by the perps, who are gang members, for bragging rights. Kind of like the kids that were bragging about shooting that Aussie ballplayer.

"Why are you creating a unit to incriminate and criminalize what they are doing and lock them up?" Erika Ford

Why? Because they are committing CRIMES, that's why. No one is "criminalizing" anybody beyond the people committing the crimes.

This founder of a teen organization is either one of the criminals herself (not as odd an occurrence as one might think)or, she loses grant money that would otherwise flow to her if the gangbangers aren't locked up.

Or maybe its Stockholm Syndrome where she empathizes more with the gangbangers she hangs out with, rather than their victims.