It’s not just actors these days who perform for an audience – many criminals do, too.
Raymond Surette, a UCF criminal justice professor, is researching the advent of “performance crime and justice” in the age of social media.
Traditional media – such as television or radio – often restricted the public to passive consumption of content that was vetted by reporters and editors.
“But now, everyone can be a producer of performances and have ready access to an audience,” Surette said. “You don’t have to convince a news editor that your video is newsworthy. You can just post it and see if it generates a response.”
It’s a phenomenon that goes beyond crime. Just last week, a mother whose son fell into a gorilla exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo faced social media outrage as millions took to Facebook to comment on the video that captured the accident. People called her a bad parent and demanded a criminal investigation into the zookeeper who shot and killed the endangered animal to rescue the 4-year-old boy.
Lawbreakers – from those who carry out school shootings to the terrorist group ISIS, which has orchestrated public beheadings –- have taken notice of the digital world’s amplifying effects. Many attempt to seize control of media narratives by publicly bragging about their exploits online, hoping to achieve validation, attract support and gain a certain notoriety.
“The social need to share that drives performance crime also enhances the sense that criminal acts are socially acceptable because their social media distribution has a waiting audience,” he said.
Footage capturing crimes in progress, shot and posted by the criminals themselves, has become increasingly common. So are videos in which they shame the victims of their crimes and “revenge porn,” in which perpetrators seek to spread titillating images and video of former romantic partners to humiliate them.
Surette says we are living in an “era of unprecedented self-surveillance.”
“With self-surveillance common, the nature of surveillance has also fundamentally altered so that people place themselves open to the voyeuristic gaze of others within uncountable small-scale private performances that are socially mediated in ways that allow for large-scale public consumption,” he said.
The social media landscape provides benefits and challenges for the justice system as well. On the one hand, it’s a boon to identifying perpetrators. Criminals acting publicly often inadvertently generate the evidence needed for their arrest and potential conviction.
However, social media can also amplify criminal exploits to pseudo-celebrity status. Trying to prevent these performances from achieving virality – “pre-crime” – is increasingly a law-enforcement responsibility, Surette said.
“In a world overrun by social-media performances, the organizational performance of a criminal-justice agency is today judged by what crime it prevents, as well as what it solves,” He said. “Preventing the birth of crime performances has become a primary criminal-justice goal.”
To get more information about one of Surette’s recent articles about the topic, published in Current Issues in Criminal Justice, click here.