For my masters I am working on:
Gender and the fear of crime
The fear of crime is a very real problem. Victimisation surveys show that young women and older people fear crime the most. Police statistics show that the opposite group, young men, especially those from minority backgrounds, are most likely to be victims of crime. Both of these sources of data are known have problems and academics generally agree that both the fear of crime and victimisation are under-reported. This under-reporting is often referred to as the dark figure of crime.
So, if these problems are well known what can be done about them? The instruments used to collect these data are themselves flawed and the people who respond and not necessarily representative of the wider population. After all, it takes time to fill in a lengthy victimisation survey and those who have that time are generally going to be older and middle-classed. Younger and working-class people tend to be too busy to complete a lengthy questionnaire.
The late twentieth century saw the world undergo a technological revolution. I refer directly to the invention and rapid development of the internet. Here hundreds of petabytes of naturally occurring data are generated on a daily basis. A major part of this new technology has been the rise in popularity of social media. The internet and social media have been embraced by the born-digital generation. Importantly for the social scientist, research has shown that the social media platform Twitter is dominated by young people. For this reason, social media represents an opportunity to access this otherwise difficult to reach population. Over 2 billion of these social media accounts have been created allowing people to become citizen-journalists who express views, opinions and report their daily activities. This is the biggest data source in history and a potential goldmine for social scientists as people self-report on every aspect of their lives. This represents an opportunity to study human behaviours on an unprecedented scale.
Traditional data sources such as the Crime Survey England and Wales and police-recorded crime statistics have been collecting data annually for well over 30 years and predate social media. For this study, I intend to use the most up to date surveys and compare this against a snapshot of social media data collected using the Cardiff Online Social Media Observatory. This tool allows social scientists to access social media data in real time. Often many other pieces of information about the originator are also available, these include; gender, age and location. Data from Twitter will be analysed to identify indicators of fear of crime or victimisation as well as key demographic characteristics of the originator, but specifically, gender.
For those interested in the fear of crime and victimisation, social media represents a new opportunity to shed light on the dark figure of crime. This will be especially valuable for understanding how victimisation is experienced by younger groups. It may also be possible to identify groups of people in which the fear of crime is high allowing peer support programs to be designed which are known to be effective in such scenarios. Investigating of these issues will make it possible to design better interventions to support victims of crime. Social media could also be used to identify geographic areas with high victimisation and/or increased fear of crime, this could then promote environmental, structural and cultural changes to reduce negative effects.
The research identified above will form the basis of my Master’s dissertation. I aim to support the growing academic consensus that these new data sources can be used to study a range of sociological issues but especially those relating to crime, safety and justice. My long-term goal, and the object of my proposed PhD, is to examine the potential of using social media data to augment elements of the Crime Survey England and Wales. This is important because it is expensive and time-consuming to collect large data sets using questionnaire-based surveys. In order to do this, I will need to show that this study into the gendered effects of the fear of crime on social media produces results which relate to our current knowledge.
Thank you for taking the time to read this blog, I hope you enjoyed it. I encourage you to contact me if you have any questions, comments or suggestions regarding my proposed research.