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Social Media and the Variable Impact of Violence Reduction Interventions: Re-Examining Focused Deterrence in Philadelphia

NCJ Number
J. M. Hyatt; et al
Date Published

This study used data on group-level social media usage and content to examine the correlations with gun violence.



Focused deterrence is a gang violence reduction strategy that relies on a unique mix of strong enforcement messages from law enforcement and judicial officials coupled with the promise of additional services. At the heart of the intervention is a coordinated effort to communicate the costs and consequences of gun violence to identified gang members during face-to-face meetings and additional community messaging. In Philadelphia, focused deterrence was implemented between 2013 and 2016, and although an impact evaluation showed a significant decrease in shootings in targeted areas relative to matched comparison neighborhoods, the effect on targeted gangs was not universal, with some exhibiting no change or an increase in gun-related activity. The current study found that several factors, including the nature of social media activity by the gang (e.g., extent of activity and who is engaging), are associated with increases in the average rate of gang-attributable shootings during the evaluation period, while content-specific variables (e.g., direct threats towards rivals and law enforcement) were not associated with increases in shootings. Implications for violence reduction policy, including the implementation of focused deterrence, are discussed.  (Publisher Abstract)