YouTube hosts homemade and copyrighted videos, ranging from comedic skits and action-packed movies to video montages. MySpace allows its members to upload videos and pictures for others to view. However, various gang leaders have recently used these widely popular sites to target teenagers and college students for recruitment.
According to recent reports by CBS and other media sources, social networking sites like YouTube and MySpace are being used as recruitment venues for many gangs to recruit teenagers and college students. Susan Manheimer, the San Mateo police chief, stated on CBS 5 that gang members utilize the sites “to encourage loyalty by distributing free songs and mobile phone wallpapers to children as young as 12.” Thus, gang members help to create an atmosphere of “kinship” and “friendship” by enticing their targets with advertisements of luxury, family and loyalty.
Gangs now have a much easier way to spread their propaganda. Several gangs have MySpace profiles that appear friendly and approachable on the surface, but in reality they have a hidden agenda in mind. More groups are created under the guise of forming new friendships through downloading free music and posting comments within the forums. However, the gang members just prey on impressionable teenagers. An example of one of these groups (that no longer exists) is Cash Feenz. They used to advertise their music, money and illegal drugs on their MySpace pages. The group no longer exists due to the murder of two teenagers in Cape Coral, where most of Cash Feenz’s members are now in prison.
Alarm over the glorification of gang culture on popular sites such as YouTube has surged because of tragic cases that involve innocent victims. For instance, Rhys Jones was killed as a result of a gang-related outbreak that occurred in the United Kingdom. Although Rhys Jones had no affiliation with any gang, he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time during an outbreak of violence. After Jones’ death, it was found that two rival gangs in his neighborhood placed videos on YouTube that exhibited illegal activities for countless individuals to watch.
A national outcry ensued when parents and newspapers urged YouTube to ban all gang-related videos on its Web site. At the time, YouTube claimed that a ban was already in place to block any videos with “graphic violence.” However, after a quick scan around YouTube, several police offices discovered graphic videos that not only depicted gangs, but also fatal shootings.
Recruitments by gang members who are ex-convicts keep increasing in alarming numbers. Because the targets tend to be young middle-schoolers, police officials and youth counselors, such as Manheimer and Alejandro Vilchez, urge parents to keep computers in an open area so that Web sites can be easily monitored. The amount of Internet usage is also vital since teenagers have more chances of being persuaded to join gangs if they are on the internet for prolonged periods of time. Many teens end up posting comments in discussions and forums where heated gang arguments break out. Several of these online arguments move outside of cyberspace and into the real world. As a result, many gang shootings take place and leave rival gang members badly hurt or dead. It is important to prevent young teens from surfing the net more than necessary, so that teens will be unable to form any close relationships in these forums and chat rooms where gang members might potentially lurk.
Police departments in various cities across the United States are paying more attention in surveying these social network sites. George W. Knox, director of the National Gang Crime Research Center, trained hundreds of officials on how to obtain intelligence on gang territories, potential outbreaks and gang affiliations from Web sites. Knox states, “You have to be able to know their language.” Because gang members usually boast about their illegal-doings on MySpace and other sites, police officials can track these individuals and arrest them. With the ability to upload photos onto MySpace, police can identify individuals with particular graffiti artwork or hand signs that pertain to specific gangs.
While MySpace and YouTube are great social networks for communicating with old friends or uploading random videos of your misadventures, they can also help gang leaders further their campaign of violence by recruiting youth. However, officials and online organizations, such as WiredSafety.org, work to impede any more gang recruitments to lessen violence on the streets.
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