From Wired, we learn about how gang members in Chicago are using social networks as part of their methods of intimidation, organisation and self-aggrandisement, with seemingly little regard for the public nature of these spaces.
We naturally associate criminal activity with secrecy, with conspiracies hatched in alleyways or back rooms. Today, though, foolish as it may be in practice, street gangs have adopted a level of transparency that might impress even the most fervent Silicon Valley futurist. Every day on Facebook and Twitter, on Instagram and YouTube, you can find unabashed teens flashing hand signs, brandishing guns, splaying out drugs and wads of cash. If we live in an era of openness, no segment of the population is more surprisingly open than 21st-century gang members, as they simultaneously document and roil the streets of America’s toughest neighborhoods.
There’s a term sometimes used for a gangbanger who stirs up trouble online: Facebook driller. He rolls out of bed in the morning, rubs his eyes, picks up his phone. Then he gets on Facebook and starts insulting some person he barely knows, someone in a rival crew. It’s so much easier to do online than face-to-face. Soon someone else takes a screenshot of the post and starts passing it around. It’s one thing to get cursed out in front of four or five guys, but online the whole neighborhood can see it—the whole city, even. So the target has to retaliate just to save face. And at that point, the quarrel might be with not just the Facebook driller a few blocks away but also haters 10 miles north or west who responded to the post. What started as a provocation online winds up with someone getting drilled in real life.
So these gang members really don’t give a second thought to public / private, to secrecy as part of what they do. In a horrible way they are arguably being “radically transparent”. interesting to thing about Clay Shirky’s examples of online social networks defeating organised crime in Here Comes Everybody. So, do we here have organised crime adopting open, loosely coupled networks to pursue their agenda?
Well they are definitely networked, but possibly not that organised in the way we would usually think about criminal organisations…
Harold Pollack, codirector of the University of Chicago Crime Lab, says that in every talk he gives about gangs, someone inevitably asks him about The Wire—wanting to know who is, say, the Stringer Bell of Chicago. But The Wire, based in part on David Simon’s Baltimore crime reporting in the 1980s and ’90s, is now very dated in its depiction of gangs as organized crime syndicates. For one thing, Stringer Bell would never let his underlings advertise their criminal activities, as a Central Florida crew did this spring when it posted on its public Facebook page that two of its members had violated their parole and been arrested for posing with guns on their personal Facebook pages.
Something here connects to a link that Will McInnes tweeted – about “open source warfare“, a post by John Robb, author of Brave New War. These gang factions are becoming less centralised, more open, less geographically defined (as the main gang war in the Wired article escalated, across the mid-West, as social followers of the tweeting, rapping gangsters enacted small proxy battles in their own neighbourhoods).
Conflict and crime, like every other area of human life is being disrupted, re-imagined, is re-emerging in new forms.