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I’ve written several times about the different uses that both criminals and law enforcement officials make of new technologies and social media in particular to outwit each other.

This week’s post focuses on how gangs use social media and how police respond.

Gangs use social media to brag

Gang members use the whole range of social media platforms to spread inflammatory messages and encourage rival gangs to respond.

At a recent ABC News sponsored gang summit in Chicago attended by current and former gang members, several participants said that social media played a significant role in fuelling gang rivalry:

“If I make a video about somebody else, everybody is going to watch,” he said. “I get on Facebook, put up a status, somebody is somebody’s friend. If I get on Twitter, I make a tweet, somebody is going to whisper to that person, ‘did you seen what happened?’ I get on Instagram, take a picture of another person in the hood…”

Young gang members can’t afford to make expensive music videos but they can use their phone camera to record a video and post it on YouTube. There are scores of examples of British gang members on YouTube, typically brandishing guns, smoking drugs and rapping about what they’re going to do to their rivals.

A recent report by the US-based National Gang Crime Research Centre details the way in which street gangs carry out “electronic gang warfare” using Facebook.

Gangs exploit Facebook’s laissez-faire approach to hosting gangs sites on their platform. Most gangs register their account as a “community organisation” and make no attempt to play down or disguise their activities.



Gangs also use social media to recruit and intimidate

Gangs’ use of social media to brag and taunt other gangs is well known and has been established for years. However, more recently some gangs have also been using social media, particularly Facebook, to find out where young people who are skipping school are hanging out.

The gangs then show up at these locations and try to recruit the young people into their gang.

Police use social media to identify gang members

Although many police officers are disenchanted, to say the least, at the ease with which gang members are allowed to post violent content online, most admit that there is a positive spin-off and that they routinely trawl social media sites for a range of gang-related intelligence.

The New York Police Department has started routinely searching for suspects’ photos on Facebook before running them through their new Facial Recognition Unit.

Here’s a typical example of the technology in use:

A young woman reported that her jewellery was stolen from her in the street by an acquaintance’s boyfriend. She did not know the robber’s name, but she did know that he was bound to be in photos on his girlfriend’s Facebook page.

The police went online and then scanned the photo through the Facial Recognition software and established his identity – making a simple arrest shortly afterwards.

See here for further details.

Ganging up on social media

As usual, technology provides the same opportunities for both criminals and law enforcement personnel.

Both sides are getting increasingly sophisticated in the way they use social media to try to outwit each other.

If you know of any new developments in this area, please share it with readers via the comments section below.


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