Theorizing Criminality and Policing in the Digital Media Age: Volume 20

Cover of Theorizing Criminality and Policing in the Digital Media Age

Table of contents

(11 chapters)

Section I: New Opportunities for Criminals and Police


Purpose: This study explored technology-mediated abuse (TMA) by looking at the influence of topic exposure via education (in/formal), media (non/fictional), and personal experiences (self/close others) in shaping public knowledge, understandings, and perceptions of TMA.

Methodology: Community-sampled respondents (N = 551; n = 235 men, 263 women; aged 18–81 years, M = 27.42, SD = 12.31) reported their TMA awareness and topic exposure (n = 110; 20% of the total sample indicated prior exposure).

Findings: Results indicated TMA knowledge, understanding, and perceptions varied by prior sources of topic exposure. This suggests that TMA is a crime varying in public awareness and perceived repercussions.

Research limitations: Open-ended responses, although ideal for exploratory studies such as this one, limit the scope and power of quantitative analyses. Future work should test the current study’s conclusions in a generalizable, random sample via closed-item surveys.

Originality/value: Present findings elucidate which societal forces and education types are best suited for helping people understand TMA in all its complexity. Such understanding allows for practical considerations of the comparative in/effectiveness of formal curriculum and media in shaping cognitions regarding TMA victimization.


Purpose: The study makes use of situational crime prevention framework for analyzing online community reactions to the banning of deepfake pornographic content from Reddit.

Methodology/approach: Qualitative text analysis of user comments posted to Reddit’s rule-change announcement (N = 582) was carried out. Analysis relied on the original 25 techniques of situational crime prevention that were adapted into a table of activities and mechanisms meant specifically for use with online platforms.

Findings: Analysis indicates that Reddit users voiced several shortcomings that are currently present in Reddit’s platform management approach. In particular, users emphasized issues related to the lack of a consistent and transparent approach to community rule enforcement, as users believed the rule changes to be sudden and poorly reasoned. The general reactionary nature of Reddit’s approach to moderating community-harming actions also was a point of emphasis, alongside the platform’s continued rigid stance on freedom of expression, even with regard to illegal and demeaning content. Regarding Reddit and the new rules on involuntary pornography and the sexualization of minors, enforcement of sitewide policy appears contingent on external influences, such as attention from mainstream media or financial matters, rather than stemming from an inherent stance on decreasing community-harming activities.

Research limitations: The study only pertains to a specific rule change by Reddit and subsequent reactions from the platform’s community. Future research is needed to test the applicability of the adapted table of 25 techniques of situational crime prevention in the context of other online platforms.

Originality/value: First, the study applies the situational crime prevention approach in the context of moderating online platforms. Second, results from the study shed light on current practices in online content moderation from the perspective of criminological theory, as well as inform specific actions that can be taken to decrease the presence of community-harming phenomena and improve the enforcement of sitewide policy rules in general. Finally, by adapting the original 25 techniques of situational crime prevention to online content moderation, the study suggests a tentative roadmap for similar research in the future.


Purpose: This study explores the perspectives of data experts (DXs) and refugees on the algorithms used by law enforcement officers and focuses on emerging insecurities. The authors take police risk-scoring algorithms (PRSA) as a proxy to examine perceptions on algorithms that make/assist sensitive decisions affecting people’s lives.

Methodology/approach: In-depth interviews were conducted with DXs (24) in Estonia and refugees (19) in Estonia and Turkey. Using projective techniques, the interviewees were provided a simple definition of PRSA and a photo to encourage them to share their perspectives. The authors applied thematic analysis to the data combining manual and computer-aided techniques using the Maxqda software.

Findings: The study revealed that the perspectives on PRSA may change depending on the individual’s position relative to the double security paradox surrounding refugees. The use of algorithms for a sensitive matter such as security raises concerns about potential social outcomes, intentions of authorities and fairness of the algorithms. The algorithms are perceived to construct further social borders in society and justify extant ideas about marginalized groups.

Research limitations: The study made use of a small population sample and aimed at exploring perspectives of refugees and DXs by taking PRSA as the case without targeting representativeness.

Originality/value: The study is based on a double security paradox where refugees who escape their homelands due to security concerns are also considered to be national security threats. DXs, on the other hand, represent a group that takes an active role in decisions about who is at risk and who is risky. The study provides insights on two groups of people who are engaged with algorithms in different ways.

Section II: Digital Media Representations of Criminality and Policing


Purpose: This chapter outlines a cultural critique of the Gangsta as an exemplary figure to investigate the performance of social media identity. The main goal of the chapter is to illustrate some of the implications that social media have on the contemporary dramatization of the criminal, here framed as a collective techno-cultural process at the threshold between social stigma and branding. Despite using the term “Gangsta,” the author’s intent is not to “fix” this figure as an identity or a class of people, but rather to identify a broad cultural context that emerges from a glocalized hip-hop imaginary, stemming from gangsta rap and evolving alongside trap and drill.

Methodology/approach: The contribution is not intended as an empirical sociological study, but a critical cultural exploration of convergent media that bring together a glocalized gang culture and everyday social media interactions. In the second section, the author outlines his theoretical framework by identifying a point of convergence between recent studies of Instagram celebrities and criminological takes on the selective nature of gang identity. The author also explores the relationship between the “dissing,” a cultural form that is very relevant to the more aggressive sub-genres of rap, and the practice of tagging, a key affordance of social media platforms. In so doing, the author frames social media tagging as a form of identity labeling.

Findings: In light of the theory previously outlined, the author explains how tagging is used alternately to enforce social stigma and engage in recursive branding. The final section examines the aforementioned forms of tagging more in detail, in relation to specific media ecologies of YouTube videos that feature compilations of Instagram Stories originally posted by emerging Italian rappers.

Research limitations: Although it is aimed at offering an interdisciplinary contribution, this chapter adopts an admittedly media-focused perspective. Rather than producing more evidence about the use of social media by gangs, the author comments on existing sociological insight in relation to the affordances and esthetics of social media ecologies, re-problematizing certain forms of online interaction.

Originality/value: By focusing on the commonplace practice of tagging in relation to the figure of the Gangsta, the author emphasizes how online labeling practices can be more fraught that they appear, emphasizing the need for further critical reflections on the stereotyping potential of social media branding practices.


Purpose: This project examines both the media practice of covering perp walks and the discourse of perp walks as performative rituals, with the goal of understanding how grounded practice shapes meaning.

Methodology/approach: This project combines ethnographic observation and interview research to explore the grounded experience of perp walk participants, including journalists, law enforcement, and defendants.

Findings: The analysis suggests that perp walks are constructions that serve the interests of the state and that their resulting images are not neutral documents. Visual journalists are managed by law enforcement through embodied gatekeeping in practice and experience pressure from newsrooms to capture a particular moment. Defendants report feeling violated because they are unable to control the discourse of their recontextualized image.

Research limitations: As a qualitative-research project using a non-representative sample, the study results cannot be generalized, but they instead offer a rich understanding of embodied practice.

Originality/value: Because this study offers the subjective perspectives of three sets of stakeholders, including journalists, law enforcement, and defendants, it offers a unique and in-depth analysis of perp walks as media ritual.


Purpose: This chapter presents some results of a research project on the new modes of production of television crime news in Argentina. The authors explore the creation of content regarding crime in television newscasts, focusing on the ways of accessing the sources, circulation of information, and exhibition strategies.

Methodology/approach: The enquiry involved interviews with news workers and observations in nine stations in Buenos Aires City. The authors describe the routines in the production of television crime news in Argentina, the ways of narrating and enunciating crime news on television, the role played by the police in the structure of the news, and the emergence of new sources of information.

Findings: The authors outline three main findings: Most of the newscasts on television give prominence to crime news within their agendas since producers understand that this kind of information is attractive for the public; the authors observe that the way crime news is told defines the interpretive frame transmitted to viewers; and the authors describe how, in recent years, the production and presentation of crime news have changed as a result of the spread of digital technologies as sources of information.

Research limitations: First, the study was conducted in just one country. Second, it does not specifically explore why the criteria of newsworthiness as described in the chapter are used. This question can only be explored by looking closely at the experiences of the actors in their sociohistorical context; therefore, a cultural study would need to look in depth at the historic characteristics of the security forces in Argentina and their relation with the press. Finally, a study on viewers’ opinions is needed in order to understand their interpretation of crime news in terms of meaning.

Originality/value: The value of the study is to visualize the cultural specificities of the local newsmakers to understand the way they produce crime news. Whereas the study undoubtedly shares similar characteristics with news production in other countries, it focuses on the specific environment of local newsmakers and shows how the press experiences and visualizes crime and fear of crime in Argentina.

Section III: Studying Criminality and Policing in the Digital Media Age


Purpose: The study explores how educators use mass media to sensemake their experiences in relation to school shootings.

Methodology/approach: The present chapter uses content analysis to analyze educator tweets and results from an anonymous online survey.

Findings: Twitter is used by educators in the aftermath of school shootings to sensemake the impact these events have on teaching and learning outcomes. Moreover, educators turn to Twitter to debate larger issues related to gun control and arming teachers. Collectively, educators remain committed to their institutions and students; however, they may struggle to meet the ever-changing demands of what it means to be a teacher in the post-Columbine educational landscape.

Research limitations: While providing a starting point for understanding how educators sensemake their experiences with mass media, there are limitations. The sample size was limited to 55 tweets and 40 survey respondents. Furthermore, researcher bias is a concern. Both researchers work in higher education and have experienced the emotional “heaviness” that comes with discussions of school shootings.

Originality/value: This study provides insights into how educators use mass media to sensemake school shootings as both content producer and consumer. Findings indicate that through the identification of patterns within educators’ sensemaking processes, educational institutions can develop better systems for processing the effect of gun violence on the teaching experience and within the classroom.


Purpose: In this chapter, the authors posit that, shadowing the etiological crises in criminology, much crime media scholarship remains “lost in the mediascape.” The authors outline why dominant positivist methodologies in crime media scholarship leave us lost and offer tools that researchers may use for better wayfinding in this complex and dynamic environment.

Methodology/approach: Drawing on the concept of liquid criminology, the authors join a growing chorus in the crime media field calling for methodological and theoretical concepts more reflective of the social dimensions of liquid modernity, that is, uncertainty, ambiguity, impermanence, precarity, etc.

Findings: The conditions of liquid modernity inform a mediascape characterized by an abundance of data, misinformation, disinformation, propaganda, and conspiracy theories resulting in collective disorientation and the inability to form coherent narratives about the past, present, or future. As such, these conditions defy positivistic conventions like representative sampling and demand new, imaginative approaches to the study of crime media. To that end, informed by the cultural criminological perspective, the authors offer two methodologies and one theoretical concept.

Research limitations: The authors believe our methodological and theoretical suggestions are best suited for analyzing themes and concepts among discourse around crime incidents that have significant legal and social implications. The authors offer no definitive answers, but hope to begin building a better toolbox for wayfinding in this digital wilderness.

Originality/value: The currently dominant methodology within crime media scholarship is a poor fit with contemporary media culture. Here, the authors begin to remedy that by proposing an orientation that fits better with the fluid, uncertain, and dynamic media environment that permeates our social world.


Purpose: Media violence theorists made five methodological errors, which have muddled theory construction. As such, the validity of the claim that media violence must share blame for a rise in aggression in society is suspect.

Approach: Here, the authors explain those five errors: (1) Subclinical psychopathologies interact with media messages in detectable ways. Media violence researchers never paid attention to the composition of their participant samples. Consequently, they were never aware of the inherent vulnerabilities, or immunities, to media violence of their participants. (2) Media violence researchers used convenience samples when they should have used random samples to study media violence. The nature of the research questions they were asking required the use of random samples. But, with the use of convenience samples, those samples never matched the populations they were designed to examine. (3) Media violence researchers used expansive variable lists that probably triggered family-wise interaction effects, thus reporting interactions between independent and dependent variables that were meaningless. (4) Most media violence data are correlational. So, researchers used converged data from correlational studies to infer causation. But their convergence procedures were improperly executed, which led to incorrect interpretations. (5) Media violence researchers, from the outset of their work in the 1980s, pathologized media violence first, then set about trying to find out how it presumably harmed society. Those researchers should have considered the idea that media violence is nothing more than mere entertainment for most people.

Value: In addition to questioning the claims made by media violence researchers, these five errors serve as a cautionary tale to social media researchers. Scholars investigating the effects of social media use might consider the possibility that social media are nothing more than new modes of communication.

Cover of Theorizing Criminality and Policing in the Digital Media Age
Publication date
Book series
Studies in Media and Communications
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
Book series ISSN