Of course, Twitter has sub-cultures just like any other group venue. All of us form cliques of friends we hang out with, whether it's online or off. Twitter is no different. Most of us likely have a certain type of friend who use the 140-or-less blogging platform just like you do. Maybe your friends are the more techie types, or the more social my-phone-is-always-in-my-hand types, or even the too-lazy-to-write-a-full-on-email types.
Gangs, when you boil it down, are just another social clique. A little more violent and crime-prone, sure, but it's still just another "jocks" vs "nerds" thing in the end. So why wouldn't they be using Twitter like the rest of us?
I looked into the possibility and found out that these guys are quite active. So are the cops who're tracking them.
In the summer of 2008, Florida passed a state law (Statute 874-11) called the "Criminal Gang Prevention Act" which went into effect in October of that year. The law, specifically 874.11, provides for a third degree felony for using the Internet to promote criminal gang activity. It's worded in legaleze, of course, but that's the basic idea.
Then it turns out that this law was used for the first time only six weeks after the law went into effect. The Lee County Sheriff's Office launched Operation Firewall immediately upon the law's passage and it netted the arrest of 15 individual in just days.
That criminal case is still underway and the decision made by the judge could decide whether the law can continue to be used. The question is the law itself and whether it violate freedom of speech.
So I started looking to see if there were anything that my (admittedly amateurish knowledge) could find on Twitter that appeared to be "gang-related" based in Florida. I went to a couple of my favorite social search tools and started looking, aiming for Florida-based accounts with common gang names or titles.
I used LocalFollow, which I've talked about before. I tried some notable gang names that formed in LA of course, but it seems only the most dullard of the gangsters actually put those in their names. So I tried searching content instead.
Now, again, I'm not an expert, but doing this was enlightening. I found twenty matches right off the bat and all in South Florida (mainly Miami, of course). Using the more famous gang names for instance, found a lot of references. Filtering through those, you can see that they are usually news or law-enforcement related, but you'll also find some talk that is decidedly... well, street, I guess.
I tried it with some other local gangs (pick some random graffiti and do it yourself). These kids are connected. Of course, those of us who don't speak their language very well will have a rough time figuring out what all their tweets mean, but it's possible to at least get the gist of it.
I spoke with Boca Raton's own @bocachief to ask for his thoughts on this and he had this to say:
"Gangs and other criminal organizations are no different than legitimate businesses in that they have communication and marketing needs. Social media outlets like Twitter provide a cheap and effective vehicle for gangbangers to stay in touch and recruit new members. What is really interesting is that gang leaders have created more loosely structured groups in order to avoid prosecution for running organized criminal enterprises. Social media actually better facilitates gang communication and management of criminal activity under this new scenario."
So these gangsters are out there and they are using Twitter, Facebook, and a lot of other sites to communicate and even recruit new members. Kind of puts a new meaning on "parental filter." Eh?