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Celebrity, bling and danger: PnB Rock's killing heightens worries about social media vulnerability

LA Times logo LA Times 9/14/2022 Noah Goldberg, Richard Winton, Libor Jany
Rapper PnB Rock performs in 2019 at the 92.3 Real Street Festival at Honda Center in Anaheim. (Scott Dudelson / Getty Images) © (Scott Dudelson / Getty Images) Rapper PnB Rock performs in 2019 at the 92.3 Real Street Festival at Honda Center in Anaheim. (Scott Dudelson / Getty Images)

One of the first things attorney Dawn Florio told PnB Rock when she began representing the rapper was to be careful about what he posted on social media and when.

Avoid sharing a specific location until you've left, and never post your current location, Florio recalls telling him.

"You cannot tell people where you're going to be," she said.

On Monday, Rock was having lunch at Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles in South Los Angeles.

He was killed during a botched robbery after being targeted for his jewelry, police said. A suspect brandished a firearm inside the restaurant and demanded items from Rock, who was shot after a brief struggle with the assailant.

Chief Michel Moore said Tuesday that the Los Angeles Police Department is investigating whether the killing stemmed from an Instagram post by the rapper's girlfriend that geotagged Roscoe's, at Main Street and Manchester Avenue. It was shared minutes before the shooting.

Police said they are searching for the gunman and attempting to determine a motive, so it may take time to know what role the post played in the slaying of the 30-year-old rapper, whose real name was Rakim Allen. But the shooting has reignited discussion of the dangers of the real-time use of social media by celebrities who post about their locations and luxury possessions.

This has been an issue for more than a decade, dating back to a group of young L.A. thieves known as the Bling Ring, who targeted the homes of celebrities after seeing their jewelry and other valuables in social media posts.

More recently, rapper Pop Smoke was gunned down in 2020 at a Hollywood Hills rental during a botched robbery. The young Brooklyn rapper, whose real name was Bashar Jackson, had posted a photo of a black gift bag from luxury clothing brand Amiri that exposed the address of the rental where he was staying. Police said a 15-year-old saw the post and hatched a plan with three others to rob the rapper of his gold chain and diamond-studded watch, which led to the killing.

Police say such crimes linked to social media are rare. But Moore said he's concerned about the proliferation of guns on the streets being used by robbers targeting victims for high-end jewelry.

Florio doesn't think Rock was targeted because of the Instagram post.

"I believe he probably was followed. It doesn’t make sense to me that the murderers were stalking her social media posts," Florio said. "What his girlfriend did was very innocent. I can’t fault her for that."

Regardless, police are investigating whether the post led to Rock's slaying.

The rapper “was with his family — with his girlfriend or some kind of friend of his — and as they’re there, enjoying a simple meal, [he] was brutally attacked by an individual who apparently [came] to the location after a social media posting,” Moore said.

Pop Smoke and Rock's slayings highlight a trend in Los Angeles of “follow home” robberies and other violent attacks, some of which have specifically targeted rappers.

Wakko the Kid was shot Sept. 1 at his home in North Hollywood and told The Times he believed the attack occurred after he showed off money and jewelry on social media accounts.

"It’s a popular thing in hip-hop and pop culture to show off wealth and new clothes and jewelry and nice cars,” the rapper said Monday. “It’s all part of it; it’s glitz and glamour.”

Prominent rappers Nicki Minaj and Cardi B took to Twitter to hash out whether Rock was targeted because of his girlfriend's post — or if he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"After Pop Smoke there’s no way we as rappers or our loved ones are still posting locations to our whereabouts. To show waffles & some fried chicken????!" Minaj tweeted.

Cardi B clapped back that the crime likely had more to do with the neighborhood than with the girlfriend's Instagram post.

"He was in a bad location and people stay outside plotting. It’s very irresponsible and inconsiderate to blame her for something so tragic," she tweeted.

Florio says there is a common denominator in the spate of crimes against rappers.

"When you have jewelry, you are a target," she said.

The dangers of real-time social media posts pose security questions for anyone with a substantial online following.

A burglary crew with ties to a South L.A. gang followed celebrities’ posts and noted when they’d be away from home, then pounced, prosecutors said in 2018. The group targeted Los Angeles Dodger Yasiel Puig's San Fernando Valley home, as well as that of rapper Chief Keef. In those cases, the gang tried to avoid confrontations by targeting the homes when they knew the celebrities would not be around, authorities said.

Even the Kardashian family said they were going to change how they used social media following the 2016 robbery of Kim Kardashian in Paris. One of the alleged participants in the armed robbery said he and his crew tracked her movements online and through social media.

“We’ve been able to adjust and make some changes in the way that we post [on social media], but in no way do I want this to affect the heart of the family,” matriarch Kris Jenner said in 2016. "You’re putting your life out there in real time. We’re now taking a lot more precaution."

It’s a problem with which influencers, who live their lives under the eyes of internet strangers, are familiar. Keeping their location and personal information private can help prevent stalking, doxxing, harassment — or worse.

“With real-time posting, you have to be extra careful,” said Brian Nelson, who works with influencers through his marketing agency the Network Effect. “What I tell them to do is to shoot everything on camera roll and then post after they leave the location.”

Andre “Low Down” Christian, a gang interventionist with Urban Peace Institute, said he and others were trying to sort out rumors about what precipitated Monday's shooting.

He said he wouldn’t be surprised if Rock had drawn the wrong kind of attention through social media. But it's just as likely someone saw him going into the restaurant and decided to rob him.

If nothing else, the slaying is a reminder that “people just have to be aware of their surroundings,” Christian said.

“While you’re looking at just trying to get some clout, people are looking at it as an opportunity,” he said. “It shouldn’t have to be like that, but that’s the way it works.”

Times staff writers Brian Contreras and Salvador Hernandez contributed to this report.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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