Gangs’ use of social media on the rise

Gang members’ use of social media sites goes beyond reflecting their identities and gang-related behaviors. It helps create them, Durham gang prevention officials said.

A 17-year-old Blood member checks Twitter and Facebook on his iPad. (Staff photo by Caitlin Owens)

Many young gang members actively use Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram. The effects of social media sites on gang activity are increasing, said Chad Martin, staff member of the resident services branch of the Durham Housing Authority.

Social media allows for the spread of gang culture and the glorification of this culture.

“Everybody can get on the Internet now,” he said. “You can connect to anybody.” Martins’ work includes finding ways to improve the education of public housing residents, many of which claim gang membership.

Social media has further exposed at-risk youth to gang culture, Martin said. It has made learning gang-related behaviors and terminology easy. It has also increased gang affiliation opportunities for teenagers who have grown up surrounded by gang presence in their neighborhoods, schools and entertainment sources.

“A lot of our kids will not have any affiliation with gangs,” Martin said. “But I can go to YouTube, I can go to Facebook, and I can look up how to throw up gang signs and the gang slang.”

Gangs present in Durham include Crips, Bloods, People Nations, Folk Nations, Latin Kings, MS-13s, Surenos, Nortenos, Brown Pride Locos, United Blood Nations and Vice Lords, said Detective Elliott Hoskins, vice president of administration of the North Carolina Gang Investigators Association.

Many kids have to look no further than Lil Wayne’s latest music video for exposure to gang culture, Hoskins said. Some gangs have emulated famous rappers and made their own music videos, also full of gang references.

A YouTube video titled “Welcome 2 Durham 2!!… The controversy continues” contains various Crip references, both by name and by Crip slang, and takes place in some of Durham’s public housing neighborhoods. The video has over 11,000 views.

Gangs use social media as a way to showcase common by-products associated with gang membership such as money, clothes, jewelry and girls, Hoskins said. Gangs can then use this glorification to recruit new members.

“What young kid doesn’t want a new car with 20 inch rims? What kid doesn’t want jewelry around his neck? What kid doesn’t want new sneakers and the latest jeans and money in his pocket? Because all of those things are images of success in our society,” Hoskins said.

A 17-year-old public housing resident participates in the housing authority’s mentoring program for gang members and at-risk boys. He became a Blood as a 6th-grader and currently remains a member. He did not want to be named for safety reasons.

He said that by showcasing gang activity through social media, gang members are encouraging youth to imitate them.

“People see people in gangs doing certain things and then they want to start doing what they see,” he said. “It’s a train effect. I see Bob shoot somebody, somebody see me shoot somebody and then they go and shoot somebody.”

Social media can also shape the identities of actual gang members. They can use these sites to portray themselves as “hard.” This becomes problematic when someone challenges this image face-to-face, the Blood member said.

Thus “Twitter beef”, or arguments that take place on Twitter, and Facebook conflict frequently occur. Disagreements often leave the cyber world and come to fruition face-to-face. They can then be videoed and posted on these same social media sites.

Another YouTube video titled “Blood vs Folk Hood Fight” shows two men fighting in a dark room somewhere in Durham. The video has over 23,000 views and 45 comments, many of which argue over who won or make negative remarks about either Bloods or Folks.

Gang members use social media to earn recognition, Hoskins said. In his opinion, the most important effect social media has had on gangs is that it has given them the “opportunity to spread their message,” both locally and nationally. This message consists of who they are, what they are doing and where they are located.

“Gangs in Durham may want to let somebody on the West coast know, ‘Hey, we banging like y’all banging.’ So they get on Facebook and they friend people on the West Coast,” Hoskins said.