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Likes, shares, and emoticons may not have a very gangster image – but they’re becoming an essential part of gang culture. Social media is changing the way gang members interact with their peers, rivals, and community, and does it increase gang violence?


Cyberbangingis an umbrella term used for gang activity on social media. Also known as “internet thugging,” the term refers to anything from taunting rival gang members to posting images promoting gang culture or showing off weapons and money.

Where cyber banging was once a small movement on web forums, it is now a major presence on social media. Hashtags and emoticons have taken a new, important role in gang communications.


It was once believed that the main purpose of online gang activity was recruitment. Current data, however, has largely dispelled that myth. There is little direct connection with attempts to recruit people into a gang with online activity.

Social media has proven to be a bad venue for trying to recruit because it is, by its nature, public. Gang members are moving towards using more discreet methods for planning any criminal activity or recruiting members. Facebook, for instance, is colloquially known as “Fedbook,” because it’s so easy for the Feds to monitor gang activity over.

Instead, they’ll use platforms like WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram for these activities. They can send an encrypted message which disappears once the message is deleted, making it easier to keep their conversations private and unusable in court proceedings. Much smarter than posting on a social channel.

Of course, images and videos of gang members are commonplace on social platforms like Instagram and YouTube. While these posts may increase gang sympathizers and promote gang culture, they don’t tend to actively recruit people to specific gangs. Social media isn’t used as a voice for the whole gang, rather it is used by the individual members for personal reasons. Typically, this may involve showing off personal gains from gang activity/affiliation, calling out/taunting rivals, and often to declare gang territory.


The most prominent issue with social media use by gang members is retribution and increasing gang violence. These days, when there is violence between members of rival gangs, the cause can almost always be traced back to social media interactions.

Gang culture has a big focus on reputation, making retaliation is all but inevitable whenever there is perceived disrespect. This causes problems with the way teens use social media outlets.

It’s common for gang members to taunt and mock each other online, reaching out through all sorts of mediums:

  • Comments
  • Tweets
  • Emojis
  • Live streams of entering another gang’s turf
  • YouTube posts

Before social media, these comments and jokes would be said between friends and peers. But now, even small slights are put out for all the world to see. Too often, this leads to small jokes turning into serious retaliation and the increased use of gang violence.

In Chicago, police believe one gang member with a reputation for non-violence was shot and killed in retaliation over a Facebook comment. The comment in question, “☺️.”

The smiley face was likely interpreted as a taunt about the shooter’s mom after the two had been trading insults back and forth over weeks. It’s a clear example of regular teen activity and jokes can result in major escalation over social media.


If you or a loved one are facing criminal charges for Toronto youth or gang-related offences, a criminal defence lawyer is your best bet. They will help you understand your charges, options, and potential outcomes.

William Jaksa is a Toronto defence lawyer with experience in youth, gang, and firearms offences. Contact us today for a consultation.

For further reading on social media and criminal activity see our post: Sexual Assault Charges & Social Media

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