It’s a case of today’s high-tech world of social interaction meeting crime.
Facebook, Gmail and Twitter are all used by gangs to recruit members, discuss their lifestyles and educate their ranks.
In a recent search warrant filed in the Danville Circuit Court, investigators looked into the Gmail account of a suspected member of the Bloods gang. The account’s owner, states the warrant, sends emails to recruit members for the gang, arranges meetings and even to hands out violations for not following orders.
The search warrant goes on to state the owner of the account sends emails “to communicate about the gang’s criminal activities as well as forwarding gang related files and documents,” wrote investigator R.P. Wright, of the Danville Police Department.
With recent advances in technology, particularly social media platforms, the online presence of gangs has increased, experts noted.
“One of the first platforms we started seeing was Myspace,” one of the original social media websites, said Sean Baldwin, a research associate with the National Gang Center based in Tallahassee, Florida.
“More and more, we see gangs recruiting on social media,” Baldwin said.
The 2015 National Gang Report, the most recent report published by the FBI, also points to gangs steadily using online services. It states that from 2013 to 2015 gang members’ implementation of technology, specifically social media, “has risen significantly.”
The FBI report goes on to state this allows gangs to eagerly further their goals as criminals.
George Knox, an organized crime and gang expert with the National Gang Crime Research Center, notes the illegal street gangs of today’s world all have an online presence.
“Today, all gangs do this to the extent they have an active internet presence,” he explained. “Media platforms have historically made it easy for gangs to operate online.”
Knox went on to say the first gangs to actively recruit online were white supremacists and hate groups.
“Online gang recruitment has been around since the very start of the internet,” Knox wrote, “White racist extremist gangs, and hate groups, were among the very first to master this method of development.”
In another Danville investigation, police reviewed a Facebook account with multiple photographs of people displaying hand signs identified as being used by members of the Crips street gang, states a search warrant filed in mid December. In addition, the owner of the page made multiple posts where they shared “criminal street gang knowledge” and spoke about his role as a leader within the gang.
This type of activity began only a couple of months ago, according to the court document.
Besides recruitment, experts said, gangs also use social media and websites to boast about their lifestyle.
“It may not be used for recruitment, it may be used to brag about their gang affiliations,” Baldwin said.
Gangs, much like businesses, also use social media platforms for publicity, said Robert David, coordinator of Danville’s Gang Youth and Gang Violence Prevention office.
“It’s a marketing tool,” he said. “Like any other major enterprise it [gangs] uses social media.”
When it comes to the demographics of those being recruited, experts said gangs will accept anyone into their ranks. Despite the open invitation for members, about half of all gang members are younger than the age of 18, Knox said.
“Generally they attract a younger person,” he said.
David likened the recruitment process to “phishing,” a cyber crime where a criminal sends out multiple fraudulent emails to as many people as possible, hoping to get at least one victim. Younger people are more likely to be caught up in a wide recruitment net.
“There’s no specific demographic,” he said. “I think universally, it’s that age [teenager] where they are looking for a sense of belonging.”
Reach Quashon Avent at (434) 797-7983.