Research and consultancy

Drill rap, social media, and knife possession

— The municipality of Rotterdam

In recent years, the municipality of Rotterdam has been confronted with stabbing incidents among young people. Media have linked these incidents to drill music: a violent subgenre of hip-hop revolving around rivalry, threats, and violence.

The stabbing incidents have led to social unrest, and a growing group of young people says they “need to carry a knife for their safety.” For the municipality of Rotterdam, we researched drill culture on YouTube and Instagram. We examined to what extent social media are the catalyst behind the recent wave of violence and how to leverage them to discourage knife possession.


Violent filter bubbles as social pressure cookers

In the drill-, hip-hop- and urban lifestyle communities, we found videos that explicitly showed or referred to violence and crime in various ways: from music videos to footage from surveillance cameras. Navigating those bubbles may affect the viewers’ perceptions of reality and feelings of safety. Anecdotal evidence suggests that this may have contributed to an increasing number of young people carrying a knife.

Related-video network around Dutch drill videos.
Related-video network around Dutch drill music videos on YouTube. Each dot represents a video, and the lines express 'recommendations' (i.e.: the videos YouTube recommends or starts automatically when a video finishes). The colors indicate clusters of videos that refer to each other and represent filter bubbles that audiences may get stuck in. Besides a drill bubble for Rotterdam (010) and Amsterdam (020), we find three gateway bubbles, which are clusters of videos that may lead audiences towards the clusters of drill videos: Lifestyle (e.g.: comedians, street interviews, fashion), Crime (e.g.: crime news), and Pop-hiphop (e.g.: pop music videos featuring rappers).

It seems that social media play the role of a social pressure cooker. Creating violent videos is a funicular to get thousands of views, a mechanism that various drillers have leveraged to sign a contract at a music label. At the same time, violent videos by aspiring drill artists have escalated into real-life stabbings under the influence of peer pressure in comment sections, chat boxes, and live videos.

‘As social media use is often confined to filter bubbles around specific niche interests, young people engaging with drill may get the feeling that what they see online corresponds with reality.’

— Roks & Van den Broek in ‘Cappen voor Clout‘ (2020), a research project commissioned by the municipality of Rotterdam.


Shifting norms with influencers and social media pledges

Based on our research, we help the municipality to develop campaigns to shift violence-related norms on social media and curb knife possession among young people. For example, we have identified social media influencers in, around, and beyond drill bubbles on YouTube and Instagram to stimulate engagement with the campaign’s key messages:

  • Not everything you see on the internet is real.
    Drill is entertainment; not a good example. In street interviews and podcasts social media influencers can start conversations to remind viewers.
  • There are other ways to gain respect than to act tough on social media.
    Real success requires hard work and discipline and often comes slowly. Successful role models that the target audience can relate to can tell more about this on social media.
  • Carrying a knife is dangerous – not cool.
    By carrying a knife, you are more likely to get involved in a stabbing incident. In street interviews, podcasts, and social media pledges influencers and audiences can speak up and give their opinion.
Social media network around rappers.
Social media network around more than 30 (drill) rappers. The dots represent social media accounts and the lines represent follow patterns. The red dots represent the social media accounts of rappers. They were our starting point in that we requested the accounts they follow and by whom they are followed (the blue dots). The green dots represent the accounts that the blue dots follow and are not followed by the (drill) rappers. This approach resulted in many interesting influencer opportunities such as comedians, football players, and beauty vloggers.
Mayor Aboutaleb talks with young people about knife possession
Mr. Aboutaleb, mayor of Rotterdam, has a conversation with youth and youth workers about knife possession.



Based on our findings and in collaboration with our partners, we are developing a social media intervention to shift social norms around knife possession on social media: #ShanksDown. The campaign builds on the premise that only a small minority of young people engages in violent (online) behaviors while reaping thousands of views. A vast majority rejects violence and tries to make something out of their lives by showing positive behavior. Sadly, this is often overlooked on social media and in the news. #ShanksDown aims to make the silent majority more visible.

#ShanksDown pledges
#ShanksDown pledges

By taking the #ShanksDown-pledge, young people from Rotterdam can speak out against violence and show how they are of value to Rotterdam and their environment. To create these pledges, young people will pose for the camera of a famous street photographer that will be present during a theatre tour along high schools. The young people will add doodles and inspirational quotes to their pictures and share them via their own social media channels. In this way, they will reach their peers with messages that they have crafted and stand behind. In the wake of this campaign, we will monitor how online conversations about knife violence are changing.

About the data

0 videos
about or linked to drill on YouTube
0 links
between videos on YouTube
0 pictures
on Insta with #mes, #shank or #knife
comments on Instagram

Links and media

— Dr. Roel Lutkenhaus in Podcast voor docenten van Björn Plooster op Vimeo voor #GeweldigRotterdam

— Het webinar Messengeweld en Jeugd, georganiseerd door de gemeente Rotterdam.