Facebook Bans Violence, Crime and Criminal Behavior – Is That Possible?

This article combines two sources of information; one from the US Department of Justice addressing connections between mass murders and social media and two, new guidelines are offered from Facebook “baning” criminal activity from its pages. Both are included at the end of the article.

I use these sources to reinforce the power of social media in today’s criminal world, and the need for the justice system to have a credible response.

The Department of Justice research is interesting because it reinforces the fact that mass murderers broadcast their intentions, and social media and Facebook are natural and inevitable vehicles to get their messages out before the event takes place.

Social media is now a super-highway for mass murderers and their grievances. It’s also used for day-to-day criminal activity.

Shifting Tactics

But we need to understand that if Facebook or the justice system is watching, offenders will shift tactics and communicate powerfully but subtly.

There is an infinite difference between, “They need to be taught a lesson, bullies need to die,” and, “I’m going to shoot them.”

Concurrently, posting an image of an offender with a gun with the warning that rivals will be dealt with will change to a post with a picture of a gun in the background, a soundtrack of music advocating retributive violence, and an onerous stare. Both are equally effective.


It raises a series of perplexing questions; do law enforcement, correctional and parole and probation agencies have the ability to monitor social media accounts? Do we want them to have this power?

Does Facebook have the algorithms to detect crime related posts that are subtle in nature? Do they have guidelines and understandings with law enforcement as to reporting digital criminal activity?

For example, sex offenders are well versed in digitally grooming their victims over time. You’re not going to have offenders asking for sex in the first fifty messages.

Offenders post crime-related photos and materials all the time.

Example-How NYC Fights Gang Violence Via Social Media

From The Crime ReportAs a “violence interrupter” for Bronx Connect’s Release the Grip office, a Bronx site for the global nonprofit Cure Violence, Samuel Jackson, a 39-year-old former gang member used his personal experience to persuade young gang members to walk away from violent showdowns. Now, he spends 14 hours a day on a new turf: Facebook and Instagram, the Wall Street Journal reports. As heated social media exchanges fuel gang violence, Release the Grip has gone digital, aiming to prevent the next fatal shooting by defusing charged online confrontations.

“I didn’t have [social media] growing up,” said Jackson, who was convicted of assault at 16 and spent six years in prison. “Now the young individuals coming up behind my generation, they have that outlet.”

Social media rapidly escalates tension between gangs and many of the gang shootings last year were rooted in an exchange on social media. Gangs promote themselves online, said Robert Boyce, New York City chief of detectives. “The gang members who had spent the past screaming at each other and threatening each other in the streets were now doing it in social media,” said Richard Aborn of the Citizens Crime Commission in New York, a nonprofit focusing on crime and public safety policies.

“When people scream at each other in the streets, when it’s over, it’s over. When people scream at each other on Facebook, it stays there.” New York University and the crime commission launched an “E-Responder” pilot last year to train interrupters to identify risky posts and communicate to young people the repercussions of aggressive online behavior. Wall Street Journal

Issues-Criminal Justice

There are seven million people under correctional supervision with the vast majority supervised by parole and probation agencies. Do police and parole and probation agencies have the ability to monitor social media accounts of offenders? Even if they had that ability, should they?

Bigger question; if parole and probation agencies had that ability, do they want to know?

We are in a day and age where we don’t violate offenders due to prison overcrowding, and agencies are desperately trying to improve their success rates. Social media monitoring would increase the percentage of offenders deemed unsuccessful dramatically.

The resulting court or parole commission hearings would be a quagmire. If offenders display a firearm or drugs, the system would have to prove they were real and not toys or oregano.

There are critics questioning the use of police and criminal justice technology, but in a world where two out of every five reported crimes ends in an arrest, we may need to explore an expansion of technology, especially as it applies to violent offenders.


Offender use of Facebook for criminal activity can be (and has been) a blunt instrument of intimidation. Offenders pose with guns, drugs, and warn others that they are willing to use violence to protect themselves or territories.

But anyone who has worked in a correctional or gang-related setting understands that messages can be understated. Tattoos, hand signs or just staring hard into the camera with a cryptic message is well understood by anyone on the street.  You don’t have to pose with an AR-15 and a table full of drugs or be accompanied by underage girls.

This is a world where tennis shoes strung across phone or electrical wires signify a gang’s territory. Grafitti serves the same purpose.

Intelligence units within prisons and law enforcement agencies are well aware of subtle messages and what’s conveyed. It’s not like Facebook can discover this through an algorithm. I would guess that Facebook human observers won’t be able to distinguish between apparent and cryptic messaging.

Parole and Probation

With caseloads averaging 150 offenders to every parole and probation agent (ratios can be higher) it’s literally impossible for agents to routinely monitor social media accounts, thus few are shocked when so many illegal or questionable activities go unnoticed.

There are endless questions regarding the ethics of social media monitoring, but when an offender commits a crime, media will review social media posts and offer photos of the individual with firearms and drugs. “We found this,” they will say. “Why didn’t you know about it?”

So when the subject of terrorism or mass murders comes up and whether participants broadcast their intentions, it’s preceded by more mundane questions regarding the capacity of justice agencies to see what is already under their noses.

Parole and Probation agencies don’t have the capacity or time to routinely review social media posts. It’s the same for law enforcement. Acknowledging that, it seems obvious that we do not have the ability to seek out mass murders or terrorists unless we have specific knowledge of a possible crime.


Facebook and other social media entities plus the justice system face an immense challenge as to keeping people safe. As offenders change tactics, will we be astute enough to recognize ongoing criminal behavior?

It’s my assertion that the justice system does not have the capacity, training or time to monitor the social media accounts of offenders on a large scale. If that changes, do we have societal and legal approvals?

Do parole and probation agencies really want to know? Probably not; it will greatly increase their rate of failure.

It’s also my opinion that social media sites do not want to be in the business of policing their platforms; it’s a slippery slope and partnering with law enforcement is bad for business. It’s my guess that their “credible threat” manifesto is not easily actionable.

Thus for all the reasons above, social media monitoring is a quagmire. Remember this the next time a mass murderer broadcasts and acts, or a sex or violent offender uses Facebook and someone is hurt or killed. Critics will say that the “system” failed to take action. There are reasons why.

Leonard A. Sipes, Jr. – Retired federal senior spokesperson. Thirty-five years of award-winning public relations for national and state criminal justice agencies. Interviewed multiple times by every national news outlet. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Former Director of Information Services, National Crime Prevention Council. Former Adjunct Associate Professor of criminology and public affairs-University of Maryland, University College. Certificate of Advanced Study-Johns Hopkins University. You can contact me at [email protected].

My book: “Amazon Hot New Release”- “A Must Have Book,” Success With The Media: Everything You Need To Survive Reporters and Your Organization available at Amazon.

See Facebook and USDOJ sources below.

social media

Facebook Guidelines

Violence and Criminal Behavior

Credible Violence

We aim to prevent potential real-world harm that may be related to content on Facebook. We understand that people commonly express disdain or disagreement by threatening or calling for violence in facetious and non-serious ways. That’s why we try to consider the language, context and details in order to distinguish casual statements from content that constitutes a credible threat to public or personal safety. In determining whether a threat is credible, we may also consider additional information like a targeted person’s public visibility and vulnerability. We remove content, disable accounts, and work with law enforcement when we believe there is a genuine risk of physical harm or direct threats to public safety.


Dangerous Individuals and Organizations

In an effort to prevent and disrupt real-world harm, we do not allow any organizations or individuals that are engaged in the following to have a presence on Facebook:

Terrorist activity

Organized hate

Mass or serial murder

Human trafficking

Organized violence or criminal activity

We also remove content that expresses support or praise for groups, leaders, or individuals involved in these activities.


Promoting or Publicizing Crime

We prohibit people from promoting or publicizing violent crime, theft, and/or fraud because we do not want to condone this activity and because there is a risk of copycat behavior. We also do not allow people to depict criminal activity or admit to crimes they or their associates have committed. We do, however, allow people to debate or advocate for the legality of criminal activities, as well as address them in a rhetorical or satirical way.


Coordinating Harm

In an effort to prevent and disrupt real-world harm, we prohibit people from facilitating or coordinating future criminal activity that is intended or likely to cause harm to people, businesses, or animals. People can draw attention to harmful activity that they may witness or experience as long as they do not advocate for or coordinate harm.


Regulated Goods

To encourage safety and compliance with common legal restrictions, we prohibit attempts by individuals, manufacturers, and retailers to purchase, sell, or trade non-medical drugs, pharmaceutical drugs, and marijuana. We also prohibit the purchase, sale, gifting, exchange, and transfer of firearms, including firearm parts or ammunition, between private individuals on Facebook. Some of these items are not regulated everywhere; however, because of the borderless nature of our community, we try to enforce our policies as consistently as possible. Firearm stores and online retailers may promote items available for sale off of our services as long as those retailers comply with all applicable laws and regulations. We allow discussions about sales of firearms and firearm parts in stores or by online retailers and advocating for changes to firearm regulation. Regulated goods that are not prohibited by our Community Standards may be subject to our more stringent Commerce Policies.





DOJ Report-What Can We Learn From the Similarities and Differences Between Lone Wolf Terrorists and Mass Murderers?

Lone actor terrorists are broadcasting what they’re doing; we need to listen.

Lone actor terrorists, also referred to as “lone wolves” in media reports, have raised new concerns about the ability to prevent terrorist attacks when it is an individual seemingly acting on his own.

Through a report funded by the National Institute of Justice, researchers sought to examine whether the trajectory toward acts of violence was similar for lone actor terrorists and mass murderers.

Researchers found that mass murderers and lone actor terrorists are very similar in their behaviors before committing their crimes, but significant differences exist, including the leaking of intent prior to a violent crime.

While lone actor terrorists and mass murders both commit highly publicized acts of violence, their motivations differ. Whereas terrorists commit acts of violence for political gain, mass murderers lack this ideology. The majority of mass murderers are concerned with personal feelings of having been wronged by an individual or group of people.

Researchers compared a number of variables between 71 lone actor terrorists and 115 solo mass murders. Results show that there is little to differentiate the two, in terms of their socio-demographic profiles.

However, their behaviors differ with regards to the degree in which they interact with co-conspirators, their antecedent event behaviors, and the degree to which they leak information prior to the attack.

Notably, lone actor terrorists were significantly more likely to verbalize their intent to commit violence to friends, families, or a wider audience and have others aware of their desire to hurt others.

According to John Picarelli, Program Manager for Transnational Issues, one of the most important findings in this research is this point, that violent extremists are “broadcasting what they’re doing if you’re listening.”

“In other words, these findings support those advocating for early intervention as a way to prevent mass violence and violent extremism,” Picarelli said.

“That doesn’t necessarily mean an intervention by police, but should also include peers, community-based organizations, mental health professionals or others,” he said.

Sources-National Institute of Justice

National Institute of Justice, “What Can We Learn From the Similarities and Differences Between Lone Wolf Terrorists and Mass Murderers? ,” January 3, 2017, from NIJ.govhttps://nij.gov/topics/crime/terrorism/Pages/lone-wolf-terrorists-and-mass-murderers.aspx

The Crime Report at http://thecrimereport.org/

See a position paper from the American Probation and Parole Association at https://www.appa-net.org/eweb/docs/APPA/stances/ip_USMCC.pdf.