Gangs Take to Twitter

20% of gang members interviewed in one study say their group maintains a social media site

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Mario Anzuoni / Reuters

Twitter is no longer just a place for people to argue about Breaking Bad and promote think pieces they wrote about twerking. The social networking site is also becoming a place where gangs and political extremists recruit new members, flaunt their criminal activities and generally promote themselves, USA Today reports.

The most recent example is al-Shabab, the Somali militant group responsible for the recent terrorist attack at an upscale Nairobi mall. The group live-tweeted the massacre, defending the killings while threatening more. The group also sent tweets taunting and mocking Kenyan security forces.

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But al-Shabab isn’t the only criminal group on social media. According to a recent study, nearly 20% of gang members said their gang maintained a website or social media site, and 50% said their gang posted videos online, USA Today notes. Some members said they’d organize criminal activities on social media using coded language, and others said they’d use Twitter and Facebook to pick fights with rival gangs. Criminologist Rob D’Ovidio told USA Today that common codes uses online include “biscuit” or “clickety” for a gun, “food,” “sea shells” or “gas” for bullets and “rock to sleep early” for murder.

Of course, these attempts to conduct criminal activities online can be risky. Last year, for example, New York City police arrested 43 gang members in connection to  a number of killings, shootings and robberies, all thanks to details shared about these crimes on Twitter. Basically, more and more criminals are taking to social media to brag about their crimes and even do things like post pictures with stolen items. Seems kind of counterintuitive, doesn’t it?

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