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St. Louis Gangs Take Their Message Online

Kevin Killeen and Tanya Sinkovits
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(Photo credit should read ROMEO GACAD/AFP/Getty Images)

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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOX) – A criminologist who studies St. Louis gang activity says Twitter, Facebook and Youtube are accelerating the pace of gang activity and in some cases dividing gangs between the young who tweet and the old who don’t.

“I’ve been interviewing gang members and one of the biggest thing I see is the use of Youtube,” said associate professor of criminology Beth Huebner with the University of Missouri St. Louis. “People have been posting fights on Youtube as evidence of what they can do.”

And Facebook is also becoming a kind of cyber street corner for gang members to congregate.

“We see a lot of use on Facebook with pictures of themselves, posing with weapons or in specific colors as part of the gang, and as a way to organize other people together.” Huebner said.


*Images in this video may be disturbing to some viewers

In her study of some 50 members of various St. Louis gangs, Huebner says sometimes gang members are insulting rivals on line, provoking real life violence.

“We see with electronic media that if you insult somebody that can get around,” Huebner said, “It can be forwarded really quickly.”

And, if you and your enemies are all active in social media, where can you lay low?

attachment ashx 1 e1328636175895 St. Louis Gangs Take Their Message Online

Beth Huebner, Associate Professor of Criminology, UMSL. Huebner has been interviewing estimated 50 gang members to track their use of technology. (KMOX/Kevin Killeen)

“You can’t hide as well as you could before if you’re on Facebook and telling people what you’re doing,” Huebner said, “It’s easier to figure out where someone you want to retaliate against is hiding.”

Not surprisingly, Huebner found that younger gang members, ages 16 to 20, are the ones pushing for more social media in gang culture, because they grew up on line. But not so with the older ones.

“What’s interesting is when I talked to the older gang members they do not like the technology at all,” Huebner said, “They think it should stay old school. They feel that it’s dumb for the young gang members to be on the internet broadcasting fights. They just think that’s soft.”

At this point Huebner says the cyber fingerprints left behind by gang members on line has not made a splash as courtroom evidence, but she says it does provide police with a valuable investigative tool — perhaps moreso among the younger officers who grew up on line.

Copyright KMOX Radio

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