Societal views of deviance tend to be in association with criminality. Although they are not the same, they are not mutually exclusive either. The best summation of the two is thinking of them as a Venn diagram, where they are both unique and separate but share many commonalities. For instance, on the one hand, rape, murder, assault, and robbery are all considered criminal acts but are simultaneously seen as deviant behaviors. Jaywalking, on the other hand, might be against the law but is not deviant, and having a large facial tattoo might be seen as deviant but not a crime.

Therefore, to define deviance, space, place, and time must be taken into consideration. These variables can indicate whether certain acts are considered taboo or not, and criminal or decriminalized. Two examples are interracial marriage and recreational drug use. First, the concept of marriage has changed over the past 100 years. Historically, in the United States, this union was reserved for a man and a woman of the same age, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, and religion. Any deviation from this was seen as deviant, as well as prohibited by law under some of the first Black Codes dating back to the 17th century. However, in 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Loving v. Virginia that antimiscegenation laws were unconstitutional. This ruling began the process of breaking down the deviant label associated with interracial marriage. Thus, law affects the way in which deviance is perceived over time.

A second example is the use of recreational drugs (e.g., marijuana). Research indicates that marijuana is the third most frequently used recreational drug in the United States, next to alcohol and tobacco. The ample and abundant use of marijuana has taken away many of the deviant qualities that were once associated with it. In particular, during the early to mid-20th century, films such as Reefer Madness (1936) exploited the supposed negative propaganda of using marijuana. Today, many films have been made that celebrate recreational marijuana use, such as Pineapple Express (2008), which highlights the positive and comedic uses of the drug. In addition, factoring in space and place, specific states such as Colorado, Alaska, Oregon, and Washington have made some forms of marijuana use legal, therefore taking away both the criminalized and, to some extent, the deviant elements. These two examples are used to show how deviance is socially constructed and enforced or dismantled by popular opinion and legislative policies.

In 2014, “challenges”—performing an act on camera and calling out others to perform the same act—became a viral way of sharing videos. The “fire” challenge, which consisted of individuals having a flammable liquid poured on their bodies and immediately setting themselves on fire, was exhibited on websites such as WorldStarHipHop and YouTube. While many of the viewers of this deviant act might laugh or see the lunacy in setting oneself on fire, this challenge in some cases left the person with burn wounds. A second challenge, known as the “loud” challenge for its slang reference to marijuana, refers to people recording themselves smoking marijuana in public spaces, such as a mall or a restaurant. Both of these challenges pose the risk of criminal sanctions, depending on the geographic location, the public place, and the individual engaging in the act. Both have implications for surveillance, particularly by law enforcement, which can use these videos as incriminating evidence against the individuals or groups.

Social media has also changed and shifted language. One of the most prominent ways is through the use of hashtags (i.e., “#”). A hashtag used before a word, phrase, or sentence allows users of virtual space to easily find videos, links, or statements. This becomes a useful tool for surveillance and law enforcement. Surveillance of key terms alerted the attention of the authorities to the Instagram page of Ismaaiyl Brinsley, a lone gunman who executed two New York City police officers on December 20, 2014. Brinsley had shot his ex-girlfriend earlier in the day and soon thereafter began posting several threats and pictures on social media of the harm he intended to inflict on law enforcement. The Baltimore County Police intercepted these posts and informed the New York Police Department of these threats, which they believed Brinsley intended to execute. Unfortunately, the message was received just around the time when Brinsley opened fire, killing two police officers before taking his own life. This example shows how law enforcement uses surveillance of social media to track suggestive language, deviant behavior, and criminal acts. Many law enforcement agencies have cybercrime divisions that monitor social media and online space.

The fundamental question remains: Why would someone self-incriminate by posting deviant or criminal behaviors to online space or social media? Briefly, here are three potential reasons. First, the ability to post, view, share, and comment on videos gives individuals agency. Agency produces forms of power that create a narrative of “I matter.” Second, the ability to perform in and post videos of deviant actions conveys a sense of authenticity, of being viewed as genuine. It is imperative to be viewed as real and authentic, particularly in forms of masculinity or femininity. Finally, the ability to move from the margin to the center is deeply important to the human condition. Specifically, to leave a legacy of any capacity, whether deviant or not, becomes significant, particularly for individuals and communities that have been systematically labeled as the other or deviant.

CalvinJohn Smiley

See also Crime ; Facebook ; Policing and Society ; Privacy, Internet ; Surveillance, Theories of ; YouTube

Further Readings

Becker, Howard S. Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance. New York, NY: Free Press, 1963.

Fenton, Justin. “Police Say Killer of 2 NYPD Officers First Shot Ex-Girlfriend in Ownings Mills” (December 20, 2014). (Accessed December 2014).

Hogan, Bernie. “The Presentation of Self in the Age of Social Media: Distinguishing Performances and Exhibitions Online.” Bulletin of Science Technology & Society, v.30/6 (2010).

Lilah, Rose. “Bobby Shmurda and GS9 Arrest by the Numbers” (December 19, 2014). (Accessed December 2014).

Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967).

Smiley, Calvin John. “From Silence to Propagation: Understanding the Relationship Between ‘Stop Snitchin’ and ‘YOLO.’” Deviant behavior, v.36/1 (2015).

Yar, Majid. “Crime, Media and the Will-to-Representation: Reconsidering Relationships in the New Media Age.” Crime Media Culture, v.8/3 (2012).

Young, Jock. The Exclusive Society. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1999.