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Social Media Murder: When Facebook And Forums Facilitate Homicide

As online networks like Facebook and Twitter become digital stomping grounds for everyday people, it makes sense that they’d be scenes for criminal behavior, from petty to first degree.

In the first ever study on Facebook and criminal behavior, researchers at the U.K.’s  Birmingham City University identified six types of killers that use the social media platform to commit, plan, or confess murderous crimes.

The types of killers, which were identified using 48 case studies from around the world, are as follows:

  1. Reactor: A person that reacts with violent passion to something they see on Facebook, then goes on to commit an act of violence out of rage
  2. Informer: A person that uses Facebook to tell others that they have, or intend to, kill someone.
  3. Antagonist: A person that engages in hostile exchanges on Facebook, which escalate into face-to-face confrontation, and in some cases, lethal force
  4. Fantasist: A person for which murder is the result of blurred lines between reality and make believe on social media
  5. Predator: A person that creates and maintains a fake profile to lure a victim to an offline setting
  6. Imposter: A person that poses on Facebook as somebody else in order to gain information, or maintain the illusion that the victim is still alive
[contextly_auto_sidebar id=”OGrl0TIGDzNWtjo2ks5CFrymBMHo0xKS”]Researchers wanted to discover whether or not murders that involved social media were different than other types of homicides. On a whole, they concluded that they were not, with Facebook acting as a type of tool or weapon rather than an incentive.

Similarities with other homicides not facilitated by social media included perpetrators and victims knowing each other, though the sample showed that murders involving Facebook happened more often among people of younger age groups, with women overrepresented as victims.

Other social media crimes

Facebook is just one example of how social media can be utilized in different ways to commit violent crime. Although the aforementioned study focused on Facebook specifically, the types of killers identified are applicable to the use of other social media websites, like Twitter, Youtube, or online forums.

Examples of other online platforms that have been involved in serious criminal acts are:

  • Craigslist: There have been several cases of “Craigslist” killers, in which solicitations have lead to murder of innocent strangers.
  • Reddit: Forum threads containing anonymous confessions, or in one case a purported meme confession, of crimes including rape and murder have lead to FBI and police investigations.
  • 4Chan: The anonymous forum has been used, specifically, by the “informant” type of killer — in one recently horrifying case, to post the picture and details of a 2014 murder.
  • Twitter: Twitter can be used to spread of pictures and video content relating to criminal activity. In one case, a journalist’s tweeting against the Mexican Drug Cartel lead to her kidnapping and murder.
  • Youtube: Criminals have uploaded videos to the streaming website Youtube expressing criminal intentions, or messages that provided ample evidence to motivations behind later-perpetrated murders.

The takeaway

Homicide is homicide, and motives remain human — whether driven by power or passion — in spite of the involvement of the Internet.

Because the tools used to support murder and other serious crimes today may range from physical to digital, however, investigators and researchers are granted greater transparency and new trails to follow in understanding  the psychology behind such cases.

Originally published on November 27, 2014. 

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Jennifer Markert