October 5, 2010

Does text communication cut down on crime?

While I was reading up on the reality behind the movie The Social Network, I realized that we know a surprising amount about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg because so many business decisions were done by text, which is archived, and can be leaked. This can be pretty embarrassing to a famous young person.

That got me to thinking : Crime seems to be falling pretty steadily. It would seem like a social networking age would be a bad time to become a criminal. Say you were 16 and wanted to try a big crime like robbing a convenience store. Your cell phone can tell which cell you were in, so you have to leave it home. But you don't feel as confident without it.  

Then, you want to brag to all you friends about knocking over the convenience store, so you go on MySpace like you do to brag about everything you do, but then you realize it's all archived and the cops might see it. So you start to send out instant messages, but you realize those are archived too, so you'd have to get together with your friends to tell them about, but they'd rather stay home and play Grand Theft Auto, which you can at least text message your friends about. So, maybe turning to a life of crime was a bad idea.


Traveller said...

And what is wrong in proposing that to friends, in person, in a bar?

Skype, thanks God, is crypted (correct me if I am wrong).

But, just to be clear, it is better some robbery more than a 1984 style dictatorship like one we are into in the whole Western world.

And more, there are very much less crimes that could be prevented with Orwellian control, than lifes really ruined by reckeless leaking of innocent details, distorted by tribunals and journalists.

Not to speaking about financial data, just to point criminals to the correct target.

Anonymous said...

Facebook founder Mark Zuckebeg

Don't you mean Mark Zuckerberg? Why would you spell his last name wrong? It's pretty important.

Tom of VA said...

I think text-messaging enables some types of crime, like flash mobs. See this story
. Smart criminals (like Paul Sorvino's character in Goodfellas) won't discuss "work" issues on the phone or by text message, but your average criminal probably doesn't have the same discipline and future orientation.

Sylvia said...

I think the fall in crime has more to do with young guys less enthusiastic to spend the best years of their lives behind bars.

It might also have to do with the fact that many in the new generation prefer to stay home with the parents, whichever side of the tracks they come from.


Anonymous said...

I think that cell phones and credit cards contribute to solving crimes.

Many idiots call their friends on the victim's cell phones and use the victim's credit cards where there are video cameras recording every interaction (McDonalds).

Anonymous said...

I've told my son ever since he became a teenager getting away with something for a day or to is not the same as getting away with it. Basically it seems like everybody gets caught today.

It actually could be one of the reasons why the prisons are so packed.

Anonymous said...

Having a cell phone leaves a trail that some type of secret technology can always track.

The secret service was called in to use this "secret technology" to solve a hit and run in Florida.


anony-mouse said...

I was under the impression that HBD'ers were under the impression that small time crooks weren't really big thinkers, and couldn't think very far ahead.

polistra said...

Makes sense, and also goes with the (unquantified) sense that criminals are getting dumber. The smarter kids make the set of deductions you've described, while the dumber ones don't know about archiving. The dumber ones have always been easier to catch.

Bad side: the REALLY smart kids will use all those technologies to their advantage. Think of Colton Harris-Moore, who managed to elude capture for a couple of years.

Anonymous said...

Completely OT, Steve. You gotta check out "I Am Chicago" - photo portaits of the people found in different neighborhoods in Chicago. Look at the couple (& their kids) from Lincoln Park! Bwaa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! Just look at them!

It's a really good set of snap-shots of Chicago neighborhood residents, though.

Paul Mendez said...

I don't know about cutting down on crime, but texting has sure made riding on public transportation more pleasant. Instead of enduring a noisy subway car full of disadvantaged urban yoofs screaming obscenities into their cell phones, I can now enjoy a peaceful ride while they busily tap obscenities into their smart phones...

Mel Torme said...

Steve, put some "r"'s on those "you"
s, please (in the last paragraph). I know your post is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, of course. However, if you're gonna be a blue-collar type criminal, you've just got to resign yourself to a smaller social life. It is indeed very tempting to brag about things, and I understand, though don't condone, the whole thing about returning to the scene of the crime. It can only lead to heart-ache in the end. I speak of this, not as a criminal, but as someone who has done my share of mischief as a young one.

The only criminals with a really happening social life seem to be the mobsters, such as Tony Soprano. I know for a fact that they eat well. Watching those DVD's always makes me hungry for some lasagna or Italian sausage.

Oh, BTW, your article on VDARE today is very similiar to Pat Buchanan's one that also appeared there today. They are both good articles, but it's a coincidence.

Sgt. Joe Friday said...

A few years ago I had a break-in at my business. I suspected an employee of mine who was pinched financially could be the culprit. The police basically said they had no time to investigate the theft, so I hired a PI.

What the PI told me was very interesting: that nearly 100% of the time, burglars - especially amateurs - make a lot of cell phone calls immediately after they've committed a break-in. In my case, the PI got the phone records for this individual, and what do you know? A flurry of activity for that phone # during the time when the break-in would have occurred.

The young man went away on his honeymoon in the meantime. The day he came back to work, I fired him.

ASDF said...

The cops still need a suspect, and probably even more evidence against said suspect in order for the cell records to be released.

Do you ever watch "The First 48"? Or as I call it, "Dumb black criminals get outsmarted by detectives". It's quite a good show. Stuff still goes by word of mouth. The cops just show up in the neighborhood, and there's always someone who will roll over on the suspect.

Anonymous said...

Pardon me, but do these criminal types really think ahead.

Anonymous said...

"those are archived to"

to what - ?

josh said...

It is certainly aiding in the apprehension of the ne'er do well's after the fact,which no doubt puts a dent in future crime statistics.We have all heard the stories of the(predominantly) Black & Mexican criminals who commit what are often brutally nasty crimes and brag about it on MySpace.

International Jew said...

David Friedman's _Future Imperfect_ starts out with some excellent chapters about the prospects for crime in a wired and videoed world. (The later chapters are less brilliant as he strays into areas he doesn't know that much about.)

Anonymous said...

I think several aspects of modern info-tech cut down on crime:

1) Internet Porn. A lot of aggressive male behavior is sex-driven. Internet Porn satiates that drive.

2) Video games. Video games are achievement porn. They are cheap, they are time-consuming. And you feel like you are accomplishing something -- often something violent and illegal.

Video games + porn can satiate most aggressive young men until they age and mellow. They'll get bored eventually, but it seems to take a decade or two.

slyboots said...

There's that whole future time orientation thing that so many among the criminal class have problems with.

Worrying about cel phone tower GPS, MySpace archiving, etc enough for it to be a crime deterrent assumes that a) the would-be criminal actually understands that these kinds of electronic fingerprints are possible (most criminals are, well, pretty dumb) and b) will be swayed from the immediate goal of committing a crime because of worry over that fact.

People rob banks and convenience stores all the time in plain view of surveillance cameras - they're not too worried about that form of evidence; the possibility of a text message or cel phone ping being used as evidence probably feels even less threatening.

Something seems to be exerting a downward pressure on crime stats - but I don't think it's this.

Kylie said...

Steve Sailer said..."Say you were 16 and wanted to try a big crime like robbing a convenience store. Your cell phone can tell which cell you were in, so you have to leave it home...so you go on MySpace, but then you realize it's all archived. So you start to send out instant messages, but you realize those are archived to, so you'd have to get together with your friends...So, maybe you turning to a life of crime was a bad idea."

I wasn't aware that 16 y/o's (criminally inclined or morally upright) thought things through so thoroughly or routinely concluded that just because an idea is bad is no reason not to implement it. I was under the impression that impulse control, delayed or deferred gratification and connecting choices with consequences weren't a big part of their skill set.

As for the criminally inclined, I always understood that most criminals tend to be not quite bright and that the criminal mastermind--or even just thinking criminal--was largely a myth.

But if this is true, then it's very good news indeed. We can simply explain to 16 y/o's that to avoid poverty, they need only finish high school, marry before having a child and marry after the age of 20. Hey presto! Only 8% of today's 16 y/o's will be poor because the other 92% will realize that being a single teen parent/drop-out is a really bad idea and they'd rather be playing Grand Theft Auto anyway.

Garland said...

It sounds like Grand Theft Auto is the thing deterring the crime.

Ross said...

This is a Levitt-esque theory, a neat idea but one that isn't easily tested and what evidence there is- such as the fall in crime predating the rise of cell phones- doesn't really support it.

Steve Sailer said...

That was an interesting experiment. I write a blog post while falling asleep. The next morning I notice it has about 15 typos in it. I only get one comment complaining. Clearly, the Matthew Yglesias School of Un-Proofread Blog Posts is the way to go.

helene edwards said...

@ASDF: On The First 48, I guess you could say the detectives are "outsmarting" the black kids, but it's a strange brand of smart. I mean, the first thing you'll notice is that the cops always skip the probable cause step in getting the suspect or key witness into the interview room, where they're locked in until the key information is surrendered. It's amazing to me that no one ever says, "naw, I ain't goin' downtown, just aks me here." Once in the interview room, the strategy is usually something like, "now, I know you did it, and you could really help yourself by just telling us everything now ..." It's weird, because, as we all know, in any other context the default black attitude is, "don't even fucking talk to me." As much as I hate violent criminals, and defense lawyers, I realy wish some Dershowitz in Memphis or Miami would conduct a seminar for black kids on challenging the cops. Assuming they don't completely lawyer up right away, just once I'd like to see some kid go, "it's your burden, homey, show me what you got on me. Oh that's all? That's thin mofo, very thin."

Silver said...

You gotta check out "I Am Chicago" -

Or why modeling should be left to the professionals.

The only decent/normal looking people are the black family from Englewood.

Wanderer said...

"Skype, thank God, is crypted (correct me if I am wrong)."

Saint B.H.Obama [PBUH] has put an end to that.

[Obama's] proposals...require that all encrypted messaging services, such as BlackBerry, include a facility, or "back door", that would allow investigators to examine communications.

Software developers of internet communication services such as Skype, which are heavily encrypted, would be required to redesign their products to enable interception.

ASDF said...


My point was that the cops immediately find the suspect (generally the correct one, judging by the confessions).

Anonymous said...

"Does text communication cut down on crime?"

Well, virtually guaranteed punishment certainly cuts down on crime.
1) criminals go to jail and stay there, so they can't commit more crimes
2) the certainty of punishment deters aspiring criminals.

adfasfasf said...

Cellphones have also made video-recordng and reporting of crimes much easier.

Anonymous said...

"Does text communication cut down on crime?"

It definitely cuts down on Thought Crime ;-)

These days, who can send an email stating what they really think without worrying about the message being forwarded around, or subject to future discovery in legal proceedings?

Whiskey said...

If you read Wambaugh's stuff, the ease of internet crime allows a whole culture to live off it, assuming it is accurate. I do know that the various mal-ware and stuff is a constant, big-time annoyance by various foreign crime rings.

Identity theft, and the like, appeal to the low-risk grifter. Actually, text and other communication INCREASE crime. You can always use code, those in the know understand, those who are not in the know, don't. This is particularly true for guys low on the radar.

Osama bin Laden is not tweeting his various movements. Meanwhile, Craigslist (was) a notorious venue for prostitution. Various other fora now fill that void. MySpace and Facebook offer the same opportunity. Lots of people gathering, who can be taken advantage of, in various ways, with very low risk.

Besides, say your name is Jose Martinez. You commit a crime. Your face is on TV. What do you do? Go visit relatives in Mexico, for a year, come back to the US in another border state, under another name. Problem SOLVED!

Kylie said...

Steve Sailer said..."That was an interesting experiment. I write a blog post while falling asleep. The next morning I notice it has about 15 typos in it. I only get one comment complaining. Clearly, the Matthew Yglesias School of Un-Proofread Blog Posts is the way to go."

Sure, why not? I commented once on a typo in one of your post titles, because it made the title harder to read. But as long as your typos are just minor glitches and not major impediments to understanding, I couldn't care less.

Life is short. You're the best writer I've found online after years of extensive searching. I'm not about to waste time playing schoolmarm and pointing out minor errors in form when I could be enjoying the content of your writing.