You don't need to pray for LA.
According to social media, Los Angeles is about a week into a planned eruption of sweeping gang violence, with the hashtagged goal of killing people for #100days100nights. But this is most likely not a public safety hazard in LA -- it's a dumb meme that capitalises on racial anxiety.
After a member of the South LA gang Rollins 100's was killed earlier this month, a rumour emerged on Twitter that mourning gang members had vowed to seek vengeance by nonstop murdering anyone in their path for 100 days. Shootings last week fuelled fears that the onslaught had begun, and that it would continue through Halloween. Warnings to avoid a swath of South Central LA spread, along with rumours that the spree of violence would be a kind of pissing contest held by the rival gang members on Twitter:
Be careful if you live in LA and try to avoid the war zone
— Katie G (@CAsunshinegal) July 26, 2015
This would be terrifying, if it were true.
The exact origin of the rumour is slippery -- Snopes pins it to a Tumblr post that's now password-protected from last week -- but the vast majority of these messages are fretting/lamenting about this coming outbreak of gang warfare in Los Angeles, rather than questioning it.
Meanwhile, though there have been shootings in this part of LA, and a 27-year-old gang member named Kenneth "KP" Peevy was killed July 17, there has been no sudden increase of random killings corresponding to the supposed 100 days of blood.
"At this point, its origination is unclear, or if there's any credibility to it, or whether any violence or shootings are linked to the original comments," an LAPD media relations spokesperson told Gizmodo. "At this particular time, we haven't determined any connection."
An LAPD police captain expressed the same thing to the Los Angeles Times for its front-page story on the panic caused by the #100days100nights hashtag:
Sheriff's Capt. Steven J. Sciacca, who heads the department's South L.A. station, said investigators were still assessing the social media messages but hadn't seen a significant spike in shootings since they began to circulate.
Today, the Times talked to the LAPD's 77th Street Division Deputy Chief Bill Scott, who emphasised that the hysteria wasn't tied to an eruption of crime:
"Things have calmed down," Scott said. "It kind of validates what we've been saying that we can't validate this thing as being true."
Scott noted that there has not been a gang-related shooting in the area since this past Saturday night, which directly contradicts the idea that these gangs would be on a rampage until around Halloween.
— Kate Mather (@katemather) July 29, 2015
Yet the posts, articles, and fear persist. Media reports on the rash of social media posts further spread the rumour that LA is about to get fricasseed by bullet holes.
The Daily Beast, for instance, warned of imminent bloodshed due to the Twitter warnings, saying "innocent people" could be "risking their lives over a game on Twitter." It also wrote that an "uptick in violent crime" was "likely tied" to the hashtag.
This is Charles Manson-level aggro prepare-for-the-coming-race-war madness, crowdsourced and gone viral. There may have been some genuine agitation from gang members at some point on social media, but whatever actual threats were levied have been thoroughly eclipsed by furor and panic that posts about the rumoured posts have caused.
If this sounds familiar, it should. Remember how the NYPD received threats from angry gang members about a blood-drenched "Kill a Pig" night on New Year's Eve 2014? You may not, because those alleged warnings were trumped-up, and nothing happened. What may have originated in a few boastful threats turned into a theatre of rampant fear-mongering.
Certain pockets of the media and social media have amplified and distorted rumour-driven narratives of violence threatened by youth -- usually black youth. Last April, as the death of Freddie Grey in police custody provoked anger and despair about systemic racism and police brutality in Baltimore, the Baltimore Sun claimed that clashes between police and citizens began when students at a mostly black high school planned a "Purge" riot. As in, they were planning on wreaking havoc inspired by the 2013 Keanu Reeves-led horror film The Purge, set in a future where laws ceased to exist for one day a year. It was an irresistible narrative of wayward, angry young people. Except when police descended on the so-called "Purge" school in full riot gear, they greeted 75 students being released from school.
The same sort of panting, distorted media freakout happened in 2013 when Fox News and other conservative outlets fixated on a fake trend of roving (mostly black) groups of teens sucker-punching strangers for fun called the "Knockout Game."
Los Angeles is a city with a history of sudden, large, racially charged spurts of violence and a history of prolonged, senseless, deadly gang warfare -- the perfect setting for this mythological murder campaign. "South Central" is still shorthand for "dangerous neighbourhood" for many people, despite dramatically falling gang crime rates and overall crime rates in the past decade. And this entire incident was spurred by a real-life gang-related shooting and the anguish that followed; this is not to say that there are not criminals or people to fear. But the swift, giddy spread of the idea of a Twitter-fuelled murder contest is a phenomenon that taps into paranoia, not rationality.
The "hashtag gang death bet" is the latest dump in a sensationalistic hype-toilet. It's an example of how social media can spread misinformation, an urban legend born in the garbled echo chamber.