Young people who post graphic images of gang lifestyles on social media risk being “branded” as thugs forever because “Facebook never forgets,” police chief David Baines cautioned.
The police commissioner warned that young people were becoming desensitized to gangs and guns because of the proliferation of images glorifying the lifestyle on social media.
Mr. Baines also spoke out against some of the “vile comments” made on “anonymous blogs” about murder victim David Ebanks following his shooting death last weekend.
He said there was no evidence that either Ebanks or Victor Yates, also shot dead in West Bay in January, were active gang members, though both appeared to have friends who were.
He said some of the remarks about Ebanks, including claims that he was a gang member, were based on Instagram photographs from more than two years ago. And he echoed comments from community worker Bonnie Anglin, who told the police community meeting that the 20-year-old was turning his life around and had been involved in the Passport2Success training program, as well as the Superior Auto mechanic training program.
“I’ve seen some of the vilest comments on anonymous blogs that the family has had to put up with. I can tell you those young men did not get what they deserve,” Mr. Baines said.
“Listen to what David Ebanks’s father said. He said he was not an angel, but he was not a bad boy. He did make some bad decisions, but he was trying his best to get out.”
He said the “horrendous” comments about Ebanks showed how young people could be pigeon-holed forever by what they post online.
“If you’ve got children, go and look at their Facebook page and Instagram; you will be surprised at the life they lead, who they associate with and how they are being branded.
“Sadly, when people try to get out and they take their Passport2Success, some are dragged back because Facebook never forgets,” he added.
He said the exhibition of gang lifestyles on social media and the public’s reaction to it represent a wider, worrying phenomenon that risks desensitizing people to murder.
After a murder at a nightclub in 2009, he said, no one gave evidence to the police, but six people had taken pictures of the body and more than 140 people had posted about it on social media.
“It has almost become social entertainment when a tragedy or a horror happens,” he warned.