Archive for the 'Technology and innovation for social good' Category

Social media homicide confessions – stories of killing in digital culture

Criminologist Professor Elizabeth Yardley discusses the relationship between violent crime and social media use, ahead of her new research being published later this month. Originally published by Birmingham City University on 15th September 2017.

Elizabeth Yardley

On Easter Sunday earlier this year, 74-year-old Robert Godwin Senior went out for a walk in east Cleveland in the US state of Ohio.

It was a sunny day and he was making the most of the pleasant weather as he waited for his Easter dinner. It was during this walk that he would be ruthlessly shot dead in the street.

Most homicide victims know their killers but not this time – this was a chance encounter with a man who intended to do fatal harm. His killer had been making videos of himself as he drove around the streets of Cleveland that day.

In one of these videos the man is heard to say “I found somebody I’m about to kill”. He then pulled his car over to the side of the road, commenting on his plans. “I’m about to kill this guy right here. He’s an old dude,” he said as he walked towards Mr Godwin, who was on his own and walking along on the path. “Can you do me a favour?”, the man asked Mr Godwin before asking him to say the name of a woman. “She’s the reason this is about to happen to you”. He then shot Mr Godwin dead. This video, and several others, were uploaded to the social networking site Facebook.

This is one of many cases in recent years in which a perpetrator has posted about a homicide they’ve committed on social media. The killing of television news reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward in August 2015 was accompanied by similar behaviour by the perpetrator.

Why do people do this? What is this all about? Are these people extreme narcissists, desperate for attention and notoriety or is there more to it than this? These are just some of the questions I set out to explore in the research covered in my new book – Social Media Homicide Confessions: Stories of killers and their victims.

I examine the case of Jennifer Alfonso, murdered by her husband following a relationship characterised by coercively controlling and abusive behaviour. After shooting her in the kitchen of their Miami home, her killer posted a picture of her body on Facebook, accompanied by a statement claiming that she had been abusing him. In this statement, the killer also referenced his ‘fans’ and said they would see him in the news.

I also consider the familicide in which Shelly Janzen was killed by her brother, who then went on to kill his wife Laurel and daughter Emily. Before taking his own life, their killer posted on Facebook, confessing to killing Shelly, Laurel and Emily and explaining that Emily’s chronic migraines were the reason for the familicide.

The murder of Charles Taylor is the third case I explore. Charles was killed by the former wife of his late son Rex. After the murder, she posted images and statements on a variety of social media platforms. This included a photograph taken by her male accomplice, in which she can be seen holding a knife and Charles’ dead body is in the background. This image was uploaded to her Tumblr blog and sent to a friend who ran a website about serial killers. She made several Facebook and Instagram posts whilst she was on the run, many of them blaming Charles for Rex’s death.

I spent several months exploring not only the homicide-related posts, but also how the perpetrators had used social media more generally in the years preceding the killings. Social media was a platform to tell stories about their lives and the social roles and identities they occupied. It was a space in which they revealed their expectations about other people and how they should behave.

They also performed their membership of social groups and institutions via social media. These performances were aspirational ones – presenting their lives in highly idealistic ways, concealing the realities that contradicted these idyllic imaginaries. Visibility was a weapon that they used to tackle the struggles and challenges of everyday life. It was also a tool they used to manage their transgressions as killers. They used social media to protect them from the consequences of accepting their realities and maintaining their fantasy idealistic identities and practices.

This fetishistic disavowal (Žižek, 2009) served to conceal the negative aspects of their identities and amplify the valued roles and behaviours that gave them status. Whether they embraced the identity of the killer, tried to claim victim status for themselves or accepted responsibility for their actions, social media enabled them to position themselves as particular characters in their stories of homicide for others to consume.

Several gatekeepers stood between the killers of the past and those who consumed their stories. Mainstream media organisations decided which cases were newsworthy and as such, which cases would enter the public consciousness. Whether the killers of the twentieth century would be seen or unseen depended on the judgements and decisions of other people. If these stories did emerge, they did so second-hand, mediated and edited, the perpetrator’s control of the story diminishing with every filter it passed through.

However, the tables have now turned, today’s killers can share their stories of homicide in their own words at the tap of a touchscreen. This has enabled them a degree of control over the narrative that they have not previously experienced. Social media enables these killers to show themselves and their victims in ways they want to be seen. Perpetrators both create and represent the homicides they commit. They go from consumers to producers, their content particularly marketable in ‘wound culture’ of public fascination with violent crime (Seltzer, 1998, 2007).

The confessions I explored were not bizarre, one off aberrations but patterns of entrenched behaviour. Just as individuals don’t suddenly snap or change when they kill, neither does what they do with networked media. In a world where to be is to be seen, this is not going to change.

As criminologist Steve Hall notes, ‘the terror of insignificance, of remaining unrecognised by others, might now reign supreme as the most potent and extractable source of human energy’ (2012: 172). Criminologists, social media companies and law enforcement all need to realise that the online and the offline are not separate. We now live in a world where real, embodied, visceral violence is performed and consumed on social media. We need to start making better sense of how people live within these seamless spaces if we are to tackle homicide in digital culture.

References

Hall, S. (2012) Theorizing crime and deviance, London: Sage.

Seltzer, M. (1998) Serial killers: Death and life in America’s wound culture, New York, NY: Routledge.

Seltzer, M. (2007) True crime: Observations on violence and modernity, New York: Routledge.

Žižek, S. (2009) Violence, London: Profile Books.

Social media homicide confessions by Elizabeth Yardley is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website.  Order here for just £19.99.

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Understanding the Trump Moment: Reality TV, Birtherism, the Alt Right and the White Women’s Vote

Jessie Daniels

Jessie Daniels

Policy Press author Jessie Daniels on understanding the Trump moment, and what led to it. Originally posted on Racism Review.

Many of us woke up to a November 9 that we never could have imagined. Donald J. Trump, real estate developer and reality TV celebrity, is president-elect of the United States.

Over the last 18 months of his campaign, he has engaged in explicitly racist, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim language that has both shocked and frightened people. The implications of what a Trump presidency could mean for ginning up racial and ethnic hatred are chilling.

trump-1

But first, it’s important to understand the Trump moment, and what led to it. This is an election that will spawn a thousand hot-takes and reams of academic papers, but here’s a first draft on making sense of this victory. Continue reading ‘Understanding the Trump Moment: Reality TV, Birtherism, the Alt Right and the White Women’s Vote’

The University Press Redux: Balancing traditional university values with a culture of digital innovation

This week the first UK conference on the state and future of university presses has taken place, hosted at Liverpool University. Anthony Cond, Director of Liverpool University Press , shares his thoughts on the revival of the university press. This post was first published on the LSE Impact blog and the original can be viewed here.

Anthony Cond Liverpool University Press

Anthony Cond Liverpool University Press

As all good literary and film scholars will tell you the term ‘redux’ has multiple and subtly different meanings.

For some it connotes a new interpretation of an existing work, more literally the word means ‘brought back, restored.’

Both are accurate descriptions of what is happening to the university press in the UK: it is no accident that this week will see a conference called The University Press Redux.

The university press enjoys a peculiar position: a publishing island atop a sea of academia, its insecurities are a mirror to the budgetary, utility and reputational concerns of the subjects and institution it serves.

Touch point

Presses report to senior university managers, librarians or university or quasi-university committees; their editorial boards are drawn from faculty, yet more faculty are engaged as series editors, authors and reviewers, and more still in the inevitable exchange of ideas that happens when an academic department and a scholarly publisher active in its discipline are in close proximity.

Book and libraryThe university press is a touch point — above and beyond the author/purchaser/reader relationship with commercial publishers — between the academy’s hopes and fears and the realities of the scholarly communication system. Continue reading ‘The University Press Redux: Balancing traditional university values with a culture of digital innovation’

Are you skilled in the dark art of Social Media?

In this blog post, Kim Eggleton, our Journals Executive, explains why she believes social media is the researcher’s new best friend

Kim Eggleton, Journals Executive

Kim Eggleton, Journals Executive

Whenever I talk to researchers about using social media, the most common “objection” I hear is that it’s self-promotion, and nothing more than vanity.

The second most common protest is that good research should stand on its own merits, and if it’s good enough, people will find it. I can understand where both these opinions come from, but I think the world has moved on considerably and neither of these concerns are valid any longer.

SocMediaCartoon

What’s Social Media all about

…in 2012, over 1.8 million articles were published in 28,000 journals.

With the inevitable overload of information that came with Internet for the masses, it has become harder and harder to make good work stand out. It is estimated that in 2012, over 1.8 million articles were published in 28,000 journals. In 2010 in the US alone, it is estimated that over 320,000 books were published. Continue reading ‘Are you skilled in the dark art of Social Media?’

The election debate: What you need to know about transport in the UK today

Authors and academics Jon Shaw and Iain Docherty give their view on the Coalition government’s performance in the area of transport. With some strong investment on the inter-city infrastructure, it’s not all bad news, but they suggest we should be asking our UK General Election candidates some tougher questions about their plans for developing international links and putting local transport control back in the hands of its passengers…

Iain Docherty

Iain Docherty

Jon Shaw

Jon Shaw

Has transport has been slowly but surely creeping up the political agenda at Westminster? When we first sat down to startwriting The Transport Debate in 2010, just after the last election, the prospects weren’t particularly encouraging.

As a policy area, transport had for a long time been largely forgotten. Spending large sums of money even to stop the quality gap between Britain and other European countries getting any more glaring had been anathema to successive ministers.

Over lunch one day, a Treasury official explained to us that if the UK could achieve about the same GDP as France without a TGV system, a comprehensive motorway system and a very rapidly expanding programme of urban tram re-openings, why bother spending the money?

Five years on, it all seems rather different. It’s not particularly fashionable to praise the Chancellor, especially in academic circles, but the view that we might well be better off if we do invest heavily in our transport networks seems to have gained traction in Whitehall since George Osborne took over.

Inter-urban infrastructure

High speed rail development UK Photo credit: Wikipedia

High speed rail development UK Photo credit: Wikipedia

Despite the worst economic downturn for generations, we are witnessing the most investment in our railways for, well, generations.

Crossrail and Thameslink are being taken through to completion; HS2 has been supported enthusiastically; hundreds of miles of electrification have been approved; thousands of new train carriages have started to arrive; the ‘Northern Hub’ is being built and a raft of major station improvements (e.g. Reading, Birmingham New Street) are progressing nicely. New tramlines are opening up in Nottingham and Greater Manchester.

Photo credit

Photo credit: Lewis Clarke

On the roads we have witnessed a revitalisation of reasonably large-scale road building and a medium-term funding commitment to the newly created Highways England. ‘Smart motorways’ are cropping up all over the place and a network of ‘Expressways’ – upgraded ‘A’ roads with controlled access and grade-separated junctions – has been announced.

Looking to the future we now have on the table more new roads, Crossrail 2, further railway electrification, a new western rail connection to Heathrow and an ambitious proposal including HS3 to link up the cities of the North of England. We of course will have to wait and see if these and other vaunted schemes ever see the light of day, but we’d be tempted to lay a tenner on at least some of them coming to fruition.

Celebrate

It is not entirely clear why transport investment has all of a sudden become fashionable again (we quite like the story about George Osborne’s dad coming back from Japan waxing lyrical about the quality of their railway system) but, whatever the reason, we should celebrate it while it lasts.

Although our transport system is functional, it is by any number of measures poor in relation to those of, say, Germany, France and the Netherlands. We are probably in a minority among our colleagues in embracing the DfT’s current road building proposals, but surely there is no excuse for perpetuating a poor quality inter-urban road network.

The trick will be to ‘lock in’ the benefits of better roads – less congestion, more reliable journey times, a reduction in pollution and so on – so that traffic is not induced onto improved sections. In any event, we should remember that the amount of rail investment dwarfs that being spent on new roads.

Does all of this mean that we’re going to be popping up in one of those election adverts on YouTube giving an academic thumbs up for Dave, George and the troops? Not exactly.

The truth is that neither Coalition party would like the message we’d have to give them. Even after all the hard work, after all the ‘difficult decisions’ that have enabled transport investment to take place while cuts are made elsewhere, Coalition ministers have only got the their approach at best one third right. That’s 33%. We’d fail a student for scoring less than 40%.

International links

As geographers, we can think of the problem as one of scale. Building lots of new inter-city infrastructure is certainly helping to make good past mistakes at the national level, but there’s been precious little happening to promote our international links.

Take of queue Heathrow Photo credit:

Take off queue Heathrow Photo credit: PhillipC

The only discernable policy making for aviation has been the decision to set up the Davies Commission. This is a shameful fudge.

The government should long ago have decided either to build new runways (Labour supported expansion at Heathrow) or to have a more ‘sustainable’ aviation policy by forcing the airports to work more efficiently (bigger planes, fewer short haul flights and so on). Perhaps better still, it could have decided to do both. In the context of previous governments’ ceaseless dithering, putting everything on hold for five more years is an abrogation of duty.

Local transport

And outside of London, at the local level there’s arguably an even bigger problem. Investment in our provincial urban transport networks has fared worse over the years than our inter-city ones. Assuming people’s final destination lies beyond the main railway stations, local transport in Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Bristol and so on will become swamped with the hugely increasing number of passengers disgorging from new HS2 and other electric trains. And this will be on top of the rise in demand associated with population growth in each of these centres.

We might think Manchester’s and Nottingham’s trams are great – and indeed in the British context they are – but they are pretty small beer in relation to what others take for granted. Consider also that there is not one English city outside of London with an underground network, and most provincial centres except maybe Birmingham and Manchester have rather under-developed urban rail networks by the best European standards.

While our Second City has a patched-together Victorian urban rail system on a single light rail line, Frankfurt, its smaller twin, enjoys nine S-Bahn and several other urban lines (including a cross-city tunnel with trains every two minutes), 11 tramlines and fully nine underground lines.

English urban transport systems are mainly the preserve of deregulated bus services with their ever-changing routes and fares – and, in Liverpool, virtually no priority on the road network.

There are moves afoot to introduce smart ticketing across the large conurbations, and to regulate the bus network in Tyne and Wear and maybe Greater Manchester. Perhaps the large private bus companies are starting to realise that their effective control over local bus policy might be coming to an end. How novel that the passenger rather than the shareholder might be placed at the centre of urban transport operations.

Transformation of transport investment

Cyclists at Hyde Park corner roundabout in London Photo credit: wikipedia

Cyclists at Hyde Park corner roundabout in London Photo credit: Wikipedia

We have seen from across the Channel how it is possible to change the direction of transport policy. Like Britain, France used to be heavily reliant on the car but over the course of the last 40 years – no-one is suggesting change of this magnitude can come quickly – has completely transformed the focus of its transport investment, predominantly (but not exclusively) to benefit the public modes.

Transport for London is now into the second decade of a transformational investment strategy, but some of the seeds for what’s happening at the national level were sown only a couple of years before Gordon Brown was ejected from Number 10.

The Coalition has been delivering on a commitment to significantly improve inter-urban railways and roads, but is it realistic to expect the next government to continue this and get to grips with aviation and local transport? Given the need for heavy investment across the country’s public services in a climate of continued austerity, despite all the recent good progress we are not sure we’d lay a tenner on that just yet.

#GE2015 #whyvote #imvotingbecause

REPLACEMENT_The transport debate [FC]The transport debate by Jon Shaw and Ian Docherty is available for purchase from our website here (RRP £14.99). Don’t forget Policy Press newsletter subscribers get a 35% discount when ordering through our website. If you’re not a subscriber yet why not sign up here today and join our Policy Press community?

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blogpost authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

How neuroscience has transformed our understanding of child development

As we celebrate the launch of Abbott and Burkitt’s ground breaking new book Child development and the brain, we asked author Esther Burkitt to tells us more about what inspired her interest in child development…

EstherThe rapid advance of methodologies led me to be interested in how we can better understand children’s development in core aspects of their lives. We used to rely on behavioural methods with observational measures which could tell us how children responded in a wide variety of situations yet which did not necessarily tell us about the mechanisms guiding their behaviour.

My passion for understanding child development stemmed from working as an assistant neuropsychologist in a clinic dedicated to assessing children’s cognitive, emotional and social development for assessment and intervention purposes.

We used a wide variety of measures to build a picture of how the children were feeling and functioning. This work led me to pursue a PhD designed to investigate how we might understand children’s feelings though verbal and nonverbal measures. This also involved a myriad of methods including objective behavioural and self-report measures to reach a fuller understanding of what children were feeling and what they were trying to communicate.

Mixed methods

Some researchers adopt a single specific approach to research and some adopt a mixed methods approach. I am in the latter camp as I believe that different kinds of information arise from different ways of examining an issue and when working with children we need to be creative in the methods we adopt to understand development from an adult and from their perspective.

Happy house by a six year old

‘Happy house’ by a six year old

A keen interest of mine involves trying to find ways that children express and communicate emotion in their drawings and to find ways audiences may better understand what emotions they are expressing and conveying. For example, we might think that a child feels positively about a person drawn in yellow until we realise that they dislike the colour intensely and use it to show negativity.

This has led me to adopt mixed methodologies to look at children’s drawn and verbal affective reports, their behaviours during the drawing process and how these measures fit, or often do not, with a range of adult audiences’ understanding of the children’s emotional experiences.

“we used to think that infants did not understand that the world existed beyond their touch yet now we know very young infants appreciate this”

This project offered a great opportunity to synthesis some core information about how different approaches to examining children’s development have changed our understanding of key developmental topics. For example we used to think that infants did not understand that the world existed beyond their touch yet now we know very young infants appreciate this.

I’m interested in going on from here and a potential next step in this work would be to measure the neuropsychology influencing drawn and written expression and communication and to assess what emotional pathways are activated during children’s engagement with different communicative channels.

Child development and the brain [FC]Child development and the brain launches today and you can buy your copy from our website here (RRP £19.99). Don’t forget Policy Press newsletter subscribers get a 35% discount when ordering through our website. If you’re not a subscriber yet why not sign up here today and join our Policy Press community.

Not the end of the hacking story

Malcolm Dean

Malcolm Dean

by Malcolm Dean, founder of Society Guardian and author of Democracy under attack.

Contrary to tabloid assertions that the hacking scandal is now over following today’s sentences on Andy Coulson, former Editor of News of the World, and four other members of that stable, some 59 people still face trials for making or receiving corrupt payments for confidential information.

Eleven more cases involving 20 current or former journalists on the Sun and News of the World are due to take place at the Old Bailey. (14 people – seven of them police officers – have already been convicted for corrupt payments.) Some 30 people, mostly journalists, including some from the Sun and Mirror papers, are still waiting to find out whether they will be charged with hacking offences. And there are still more civil compensations cases due to be heard, the settlement of 718 having cost Murdoch’s News International over £250 million. The settlements represent less than 15% of the suspected 5,500 victims.

What has been established beyond doubt is that News International journalists in the UK were indulging in illegal hacking on an ‘industrial scale’. So much for the ‘one rogue reporter’ defence that the company fought so hard to maintain. There have now been eight convictions for hacking since the original 2006 trial. We still do not know why Scotland Yard refused to pursue other NoW journalists, until The Guardian publicly exposed the depth of criminal activity. The Yard, which was well aware of such activities, has not even investigated its own shortcomings. Was it, as some believe, its wish to retain its own cosy relationship with Murdoch papers?

As the former Editor of the Times, James Harding, a News International employee, bravely noted before the trials began: ‘The News of the World was an example of a newsroom not only whose methods were wrong, but which had also lost its moral bearings. The failure of News International to get to grips with what had happened at one of its newspaper suggested that the company had succumbed to that most dangerous delusion of the powerful: namely that it could play by its own set of rules.’ Two weeks later he resigned at the request of Rupert Murdoch. Elisabeth Murdoch, Rupert’s daughter, who had been equally scathing about the behaviour of her father’s company in her 2012 MacTaggart lecture, got off more lightly. Meanwhile, a former News of the World editor, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was even more blunt: “That is what we do. We go out and destroy other people’s lives.” That sentiment was echoed by the Leveson Inquiry, which reported on the scandal in 2012.

Alas, Leveson’s astute proposals for an independent press regulator – to stop the media ‘wreaking havoc with the lives of ordinary people’ – is farther away than ever. An insidious coalition of big newspaper groups – Murdoch’s News International, Northcliffe Media who own the Mail newspapers, The Telegraph Media Group and Mirror Group Newspapers – have not just defeated Leveson, but the three main political parties in the country too that had backed the Leveson plan.

The so-called Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) claims to comply with the Leveson plan, but a forensic analysis by the Media Standards Trust has documented that it only satisfies a mere 12 of the 38 criteria that Leveson set down. It repeats the fatal flaw of its pathetic predecessor, the Press Complaints Commission. The people who supply the finance – the media barons – run the system. Among the many powers of IPSO’s new controller, the Regulatory Funding Company (RFC), include:

  • a veto on any changes to its regulations;
  • a veto over changes to its standards code;
  • a veto over any low-cost arbitration, as proposed by Leveson, to allow ordinary people access to the system without having to use the extremely expensive court system;
  • control over the process of voting, giving big publishers a bigger share of the vote;
  • control over the funding of investigations into wrongdoing;
  • control over financial sanctions;
  • control over the size of the IPSO budget.

The chair of the new board, Sir Alan Moses, a respected and distinguished judge, has no power to rewrite the IPSO articles, because they are set in stone, giving overwhelming power to the Murdoch, Mail, Telegraph and Mirror groups.

All seven sins of my trade – set out in Democracy Under Attack: how the media distort policy and politics – will continue to flourish: deliberate distortions of the facts; group think; hunting in packs; dumbing down; too adversarial; too readily duped; more interest in politics than policy; and worst of all, too negative.

Remember: under the old regime, when Express journalists complained to the PCC about distorted reports they were having to write on asylum seekers, they were told they were disqualified from filing a complaint because access was restricted to victims. The new system will also have restrictions on third party referrals.

Attempts by Hacked Off, the pressure group campaigning on behalf of victims, to set out what is wrong with IPSO have been turned down by the Times, Telegraph and Mail. So much for a free press. Spread the message about the new system’s faults. Remind the public of David Cameron’s pledge to victims of hacking, that he would endorse any proposed regulator that conformed to Leveson’s criteria. IPSO doesn’t.

Democracy under attack is available with 20% discount from www.policypress.co.uk.


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