A nationwide resurgence in violence has threatened to erase more than two decades of gains in public safety. In 2020, homicides spiked by 30% and fluctuated around that level for the next two years. There are early signs that the 2023 rate could show a decrease of more than 10% from last year, leaving the total well above pre-pandemic levels. Asked about causes, criminologists point to a confluence of factors, including the social disruptions caused by COVID‑19, the rise in gun sales early in the pandemic and the uproar over the murder of George Floyd, and social media. Violence prevention workers described feuds that started on Instagram, Snapchat and other platforms and erupted into real life with terrifying speed, ProPublica reports. “When I was young and I would get into an argument with somebody at school, the only people who knew about it were me and the people at school,” said James Timpson, a violence prevention worker in Baltimore. “Not right now. Five hundred people know about it before you even leave school. And then you got this big war going on.”
Smartphones and social platforms existed long before the homicide spike. Considering the recent past, it’s not hard to see why social media might be a newly potent driver of violence. When the pandemic led officials to close civic hubs such as schools, libraries and rec centers for more than a year, people — especially young people — were pushed even further into virtual space. The current spike in violence isn’t a return to ’90s-era murder rates — it’s something else entirely. In many cities, the violence has been especially concentrated among the young. The nationwide homicide rate for 15- to 19-year-olds increased by an astonishing 91% from 2014 to 2021. Last year in Washington, D.C., 105 people under 18 were shot —nearly twice as many as in the previous year. In Philadelphia in the first nine months of 2022, the tally of youth shooting victims — 181 — equaled the tally for all of 2015 and 2016 combined. In Baltimore, more than 60 children ages 13 to 18 were shot in the first half of this year. That’s double the totals for the first half of each year from 2015 to 2021 — and it has occurred while overall homicides in the city declined.