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Inside the weird world of tracking gangs on social media

Hector Mata/AP

Graffiti has served as the billboard of gang violence for decades, or, as Inspector Jon Cargill of the gang unit for Oklahoma City – one of the worst cities for gang violence in the country – puts it, "graffiti is the newspaper of the street." It's a means of provocation and a tool to lay claim to streets, of showing other gang members you aren't scared to fight. "Gangs put the information out there as a way to show territory, to intimidate people, to show disrespect to other groups," Cargill says. "It's a way of riling things up, of going after each other, and it works."
 
But gang graffiti today has taken a turn for the worse. It's going viral, and virtual. Gang members aren't just writing on the walls of their neighborhoods, they're marking up the walls of Facebook and Twitter, bringing the war of the streets to the world of social media. "Facebook is their new street corner," Sgt. Lou Savelli, a former NYPD gang specialist who now runs a law enforcement training firm, explains. "Rather than yelling at each other on the streets and on the walls, now they do it on the internet and everyone can see."
 
And by yelling, Savelli means yelling. Many gang members routinely videotape themselves threatening rival gangs, dealing verbal taunts and even flashing guns, and then proceed to embed the videos on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Vimeo, you name it. "YouTube has become huge, huge, huge," says Providence Sgt. Michael Wheeler, head of the Providence Police Department's gang unit. "These kids will jump someone and they'll video tape it, or they will write a rap song about another gang and post it." It's graffiti 2.0, live, fully loaded, and likely to provoke more than just a war of words. "If they put it on the internet," Wheeler says, "those other kids are going to fight back."

Read the full story at The Atlantic Cities.

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