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“Internet Banging” – Co-opting Social Media for Gang-Related Violent Activities

etsaia Blog Posts, HBHE 680 30 Comments

Despite a myriad of preventative strategies ranging from increased police presence to community-based youth interventions, gang membership has continued to rise in the United States. This is an obvious concern as gangs and gang-related activities contribute significantly to violent crime rates (accounting for 48% of the total crime rate). While some attempts have indeed proved to be successful in curbing gang activities and membership in certain areas, the nature of gangs and their activities are ever-changing, posing new challenges for law enforcement and public health officials.

One example of the changing nature of gangs is the recent adoption of social media platforms such as MySpace, Twitter, and Facebook by younger gang members familiar with social media to exchange insults, violent threats, and challenges in real time that often escalate into actual violent crimes being committed, including homicides. This is a relatively new but increasingly recognized phenomenon that is now being labeled as “internet banging.” Different definitions exist, but all include several central themes including:

  1. promotion of gang affiliation and/or communication of interest in gang activity
  2. achievement of status and notoriety by reporting participation in a violent act or communicating an impending threat
  3. sharing information about rival gangs or networking with other gang members in different locations

Many gangs typically recruit heavily from area youth, who also happen to be more heavy and experienced users of social media platforms. Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter offer a convenient public forum that did not exist before, allowing a large number of people to see in real-time information that they can respond to instantly. Additionally, most social media platforms feature some sort of “tagging” or location indicating feature showing where an individual is at any particular time or place; this creates an easy avenue for retaliation and increased opportunities for violent confrontations. Social media sites also function as a tool through which gangs are becoming more organized and coordinated than ever, as they provide an easy mechanism for recruiting, planning, and sharing of intelligence on rivals.

Source - http://www.proprofs.com/polls/upload/yuiupload/209373954.jpg

From proprofs.com

It is still unclear if the adoption of social media by gangs has led to a definitive increase in gang-related violent crime rates, but law enforcement officials and police have recognized the dangerous potential it can have. As such, they are now devoting more and more resources to online monitoring and surveillance of gang-affiliated pages and accounts, both in an effort to prevent incidents from occurring and as evidence for crimes that have already occurred.

Public health and other organizations looking to curb gang violence and helping youth have taken notice of the potential social media use has in prevention as well. In New York, the Perfect Peace Ministry Youth Outreach group has volunteers monitoring the social media usage of over 4,000 at risk teens to stop violent incidents before they start, with staff members on-call that can be dispatched quickly to “tweeters”, and act as mediators. So while social media platforms may be being co-opted for unintended and harmful purposes by gangs, there is great potential for them to be adapted as preventative tools as well.

1. Patton, D.U., Eschmann, R.D., & Butler, D.A. (2013). Internet banging: New trends in social media, gang violence, masculinity, and hip hop. Computers in Human Behavior, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2012.12.035.

2. Watkins, T. (2010). Gang use of Twitter, Facebook on the rise. Available online http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/02/02/gangs-use-of-twitter-facebook_n_445551.html

3. Weischelbaum, S. (2010). Gangs in New York talk Twitter: Use tweets to trash-talk rivals, plan fights. Available online http://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/gangs-new-york-talk-twitter-tweets-trash-talk-rivals-plan-fights-article-1.414083

Comments 30

  1. I think your post poses very interesting points about the effect social media can have on increasing violence. It makes me think that new interventions need to primarily focus on cyberbullying as well as threats and hurtful remarks made on the internet. As you mentioned, with the use of informing others about one’s exact location, social media becomes a type of violence that never ends. With other types of street violence, people may seek protection in their homes. However, this shows that even when people leave the streets, they are still at risk through cyberspace and social media.

    1. I found it very interesting that you were able to highlight the role of social media in both harmful and beneficial situations, such as with gangs and law enforcement. Although social media has provided an avenue to connect and reach more young people, engaging them in gang-related violence, it has also enabled public health and law enforcement officials to better track and intervene on potential gang-related activity. The bottom line is that social media connects more people and information can be shared instantly, so if gangs are becoming more coordinated than ever before, law enforcement should be too.

  2. I found it very interesting that you were able to highlight the role of social media in both harmful and beneficial situations, such as with gangs and law enforcement. Although social media has provided an avenue to connect and reach more young people, engaging them in gang-related violence, it has also enabled public health and law enforcement officials to better track and intervene on potential gang-related activity. The bottom line is that social media connects more people and information can be shared instantly, so if gangs are becoming more coordinated than ever before, law enforcement should be too.

  3. I find the article to be particularly interesting because I use social media networking sites regularly, however not once did it cross my mind to think that they could be used in such a way. Though it is not for certain that these sites increase gang crime or not, it is reasonable to believe that these websites facilitate gang crime and are another tool gangs can use for their benefit. Similar to a can of spray paint, websites can play a major role in spreading gang news or information with great ease and essentially access from anywhere on the globe. Why call someone to let them know what you have done when taking a picture and posting it online can get so much more publicity? To me it seems that gangs have simply turned something as simple as a website and turned it into an evil tool for their own selfish benefit. However, it is good to see that the issue is at least recognized and is being addressed by those who believe that if these sites can lead to confrontations, they could also prevent them. I agree with them as well, however I find it difficult to imagine the preventative approach to be used on a macro-scale. But in the end, every little bit helps, so I applaud the Perfect Peace Youth Ministry outreach group and all who participate in the using these websites as a proactive tool.

  4. This is the first article that I have read about the influence social media is having on gang activity. I have been very curious about this topic though. I have always acknowledged the fact that it does allow for a large group of people to communicate quickly and effectively. However, posting on social media sites does leave some pretty substantial evidence for law enforcement and for that reason I thought that maybe gangs would refrain from putting their business online. This past semester at Cal State Fullerton made me realize that deviant youth have a much an advantage over law enforcement in regards to social media at this time. This past semester a couple of gunmen ran onto our campus, two of them were caught right away. One of the gunmen ran and hid within Cal State Fullerton and while hiding he was updating his twitter regularly. The gunmen despite tweeting fled the scene without getting caught. The only explanation for this is that current law enforcement are not trained or specialized in determining social media leads and tracking down the location of the post. I am encouraged to hear that Perfect Peace Youth Ministry is doing something to track and look out for their youth. I would argue that in the next couple of year a new specialized branch of law enforcement within local departments will be implemented in efforts to use social media to the advantage of law enforcement and no longer fall victim to it as society currently is.

  5. This is the first article that I have read about the influence social media is having on gang activity. I have been very curious about this topic though. I have always acknowledged the fact that it does allow for a large group of people to communicate quickly and effectively. However, posting on social media sites does leave some pretty substantial evidence for law enforcement and for that reason I thought that maybe gangs would refrain from putting their business online. This past semester at Cal State Fullerton made me realize that deviant youth have a much an advantage over law enforcement in regards to social media at this time. This past semester a couple of gunmen ran onto our campus, two of them were caught right away. One of the gunmen ran and hid within Cal State Fullerton and while hiding he was updating his twitter regularly. The gunmen despite tweeting fled the scene without getting caught. The only explanation for this is that current law enforcement are not trained or specialized in determining social media leads and tracking down the location of the post. I am encouraged to hear that Perfect Peace Youth Ministry is doing something to track and look out for their youth. I would argue that in the next couple of year a new specialized branch of law enforcement within local departments will be implemented in efforts to use social media to the advantage of law enforcement and no longer fall victim to it as society currently is.

  6. This is an interesting thought that social media can lead to more gang activities. It doesn’t seem like it would be a good idea for gang members to communicate in such a way though. Even if they have all of their settings set to private so that only the members can see the page, there are hackers out there that could easily break past the defenses and get on to the page. It seems like law enforcement would be able to use this as an advantage to make some big busts.

  7. It is interesting to see the change and expansion of gangs by use of the social media, that are noted in this article. It makes sense that gangs would make this transition into the social media. Gangs are usually known to be boastful of their actions and if this now shows up on social networks such as Facebook or twitter, law enforcement can use this to their advantage to prevent or find culprits. If gangs are becoming more organized and adapting with changing technologies, I believe law enforcement should do the same. That being said, I also believe there might be some opposition that would rather not have police or other officials looking at their Facebook profiles or other social mediums mainly on the concern of privacy. This increase of monitoring on social medias can in-turn be a double edge sword. Law enforcement should thus tread lightly.

  8. This article was an eye opener. I have never came across any gang associated social media pages. To read that this is being well known then social media should be controlled more. Not saying they should not be allowed because everyone has rights but they should be monitored on what they are posting and the people joining and following them. This can be a bad thing for many youths, but in a way a good thing because they are putting their members open to everyone since it is the social media. This is a difficult topic because it is bad, because many youths are being effected by this, but they cannot be controlled or put into a lot of restrictions because of their rights.

  9. This article opened my eyes to one of the negative impacts that social media is having in our youth. In this case technology becomes a double edge sword, where it can make gang affiliation much more accessible to gang members. Many of the users of these social networks are young adolescents that are trying to figure out who they are, making them easy targets for joining gangs. I am glad that law enforcement is dedicated to finding resources that will be helpful in online monitoring and surveillance. It is unbelievable how gangs always find ways to promote violence and retaliation. Just like the outreach group mentioned in this article, we as a community can also come together to prevent youth violence from spreading rapidly in the social media by raising awareness of youth violence.

  10. I agree that social media is a tool that is expanding the type of violence available. There are have been many incidents are young teens are committing suicide, because of being bullied over the internet. It is also a way for different gangs to argue online, and then that leads to violence outside. Many young people do not understand the dangers of posting information online. Especially if their profile is not private, their phone number and sometimes address is available to anyone. Hopefully more people have common sense, and keep their private information hidden However, I find it interesting that you also included the benefits of social media It is great that there are people monitoring the social medias online in order to prevent future violence from occurring.

  11. “Internet banging,” and “cyber bullying,” are one of the new crimes that are beginning to increase it seems. I have seen on the news and personal accounts of these acts being used. Working in law enforcement has opened my eyes up to the horrible things that can go on over the internet, being explicit content to criminal threats. The social media is whole new world, a lot of people are getting into trouble because of it, and nothing goes away once it has been posted to the internet. The criminal acts that can escalate over the internet have potential to turning into and have turned into violent crimes. It is important we monitor what we say and know what we are exposing children and ourselves to when using social media.

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