You might think seniors or students or even soccer moms are among the fastest growing sector of social media users, but actually, it's gang members.
Last summer the London riots were coordinated in no small part through the use of social media, specifically using Blackberry handheld devices to update Twitter and Facebook for coordinated assaults on the establishment (Read: Looting and rioting). This led the UK government to petition these companies for the right to shut down access when they feel public safety is at risk. Fortunately both companies balked and the UK government eventually backed down.
Today in the United States law enforcement officials around the country have seen a dramatic increase in the use of social media and the Internet in general by criminal elements. Specifically, gangs have begun 'tagging' web sites which help other gang members know when and where to meet up, and what the plan is. They also regularly use social media to coordinate gang members, boast about crimes and taunt other gang members.
Because there is an uncoordinated style to the gang postings, law enforcement officers are having a hard time cracking down. The nature of the Internet is such that if someone has a desire to use it to communicate, organize or gather, that effort is difficult to thwart.
Right now nearly 70,000 Chicago-area gang members are actively using the Internet to coordinate their activities. This is not good for the community and a big headache for the police. With a few clicks of a mouse a gang can organize all its members for whatever nefarious purposes they have in mind.
Fortunately police have been using social media to monitor this activity for quite some time. There have been several reported high profile cases where the police received an abundance of information via information they have seen posted on social networking sites by the suspects themselves. So, for as much as social media seems to be a tool for the criminal element, it is no less a powerful tool for law enforcement.
Recent efforts to pass bills designed to give the U.S. government control of the Internet (SOPA and PIPA) would have done little to thwart criminal efforts to use social media or the greater Internet to their own ends. It was aimed at sites which post copyrighted material. Plus, if these sites were ever shut down gangs and other criminals would no longer be posting their messages in public places where police can monitor what they're doing, meaning we would have no idea who was doing what, when or where.