(Page 3 of 4)
"If we think about violence as a disease, one particular host of that disease is social media," he says.
Historically, displaying pictures of the gang or recording "jump-ins," an initiation rite in which recruits endure a severe beating by gang members to demonstrate their toughness, or other acts of violence, required expensive equipment and lots of time, Patton says.
"With the advent of smartphone technology, youth can upload pictures and videos to social media sites quickly," he says.
A March study by Arizona State University's School of Criminology and Criminal Justice found that nearly 20% of gang members reported that their gang had a Web site or social networking page and 50% said that their gang posts video online.
Eleven percent said their gang organized activities online, often using code. A gang member in St. Louis said he posted on Facebook, "We got a baseball game" to call the gang together for a fight. A member in Fresno said his gang avoided organizing drug business online but used the Internet to set up meetings, parties and even fundraisers for "bail or other emergencies."
Scott Decker, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at ASU who conducted the study, says gang members used to proclaim their allegiance via graffiti or by taunting their rivals.
"Now the kind of things that result in fighting take place online," he says. "Challenges to manhood, challenges to how tough the gang is. ... It could be YouTube videos, posting on someone's Facebook site."
He says gangs involved in drug dealing use Twitter. Because police know where transactions generally take place, gang members tweet out an address. The context is unclear to an outsider, but the person on the receiving end understands the message.
Deciphering the Code
Rob D'Ovidio, a Drexel University criminologist, says gang members use code to boast about their deeds. For example, he says, they use "biscuit" or "clickety" for a gun, "food," "sea shells" or "gas" for bullets and "rock to sleep early" for murder.
But the braggadocio can backfire.
In January 2012 in New York City, police arrested 43 gang members from rival gangs and linked them to six killings, 32 shootings, 36 robberies and other crimes. The arrests came about because of members' posts on Twitter crowing about what they had done.
Criminal activity online has led more than 2,600 police departments from New York City to Seattle to create social media units to monitor sites. Urban schools in Chicago monitor social media because fights that start online often spill into hallways. (continued...)
© 2013 USA TODAY under contract with YellowBrix. All rights reserved.