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Trend Spotting: Gangs, Cops, Twitter

BY Nancy Scola | Wednesday, February 3 2010

Two's almost a trend, right? An interesting pair of stories are circulating today that both have to do with how quickly people all over the world are learning how to adapt social media -- and how the political establishment's reported skill at navigating those networks seems to be growing nearly as quickly. First up is an MSNBC piece from Los Angeles, on how law enforcement authorities are keeping tabs on gang members who are more and more turning to Twitter and Facebook:

"You find out about people you never would have known about before," said Dean Johnston with the California Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement, which helps police investigate gangs. "You build this little tree of people."

In the case involving the suspected informant, tweets alerted investigators to three other gang members who were ultimately arrested on drug charges.

Tech-savvy gangsters have long been at home in chatrooms and on Web sites like MySpace, but they appear to be gravitating toward Twitter and Facebook, where they can make threats, boast about crimes, share intelligence on rivals and network with people across the country.

And then the second is from south of the border, a story from the Global Post (via Newswer) on how some politicians in Mexico are considering a plan to start policing "los Twitteros." Apparently some people in Mexico are using Twitter to evade traffic stops, which is potentially problematic in a country trying to combat drug trafficking and cartel-driven narco-violence:

Mexico is, after all, a country at war — at least according to President Felipe Calderon, who launched the crackdown on drug cartels shortly after taking office. Three years later, the streets of border cities like Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana remain full of soldiers. In many ways, the government is still playing catch-up to the nation’s criminals.

In this context, the issue of the Twitteros has quickly expanded into an argument over whether public safety takes priority over free speech in a country struggling to contain serious social ills. Fearing that kidnappers and drug cartels use Twitter, Facebook or MySpace to communicate, the Mexican government is considering a bill to restrict social networking websites and to set up a police force to monitor them.

Just something to keep an eye on -- either as a media trend, something actually happening on the ground, or both.