Some notorious street gangs have gotten Web-savvy, reports the Associated Press. Crips, Bloods, MS-13, 18th Street, and others have staked claims in cyberspace. “Web bangers” are posting potentially incriminating photos of members holding guns, messages taunting other gangs, and boasts of illegal exploits on personal Web sites and social networking sites. Gangs can be found in 2,500 U.S. communities, says the FBI. Police departments look for help anywhere they can get it, including the gangs’ own Web sites.
George Knox, director of the National Gang Crime Research Center, has trained hundreds of police officials in how to cull intelligence on gang membership, rivalries, territory, and lingo from these Web pages. “In order to understand any subculture, be it al-Qaida, witches, devil worshippers, or gangs, you have to be able to know their own language,” he said. The tendency of gang members to brag about their exploits on Web pages like the popular MySpace.com has helped investigators make arrests. Chicago police recently arrested a teenager who they say sprayed his gang nickname on a church by tracing the name to his MySpace.com account. His online profile included his address, photo, and real name. Said Knox: “You can study gang blogs and, an hour or two into it, pick up on subtle word choices. These are holy words to them.” Experts fear gangs use the Internet to recruit new members, who can be influenced by the secret handshakes, clothing, and slang of gang cultures.