YouTube

The beat comes in—a rapid high-hat, laced with a dope-smoking, hypnotic keyboard punch—and then the hook, an ode to how Twain Gotti, a 22-year-old rapper from Newport News, Va., will ride out on his enemies.

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Gotti proceeds to spit the lyrics that got him arrested for an unsolved murder in 2007:

Listen, walk to your boy and I approached him/12 midnight on his traphouse porch and everybody saw when I motherf—kin’ choked him/but nobody saw when I motherfu—kin’ smoked him, roped him, sharpened up the shank, then I poked him.

The song first appeared on MySpace and then popped up on YouTube. It currently has more than 50,000 views.

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Antwain “Twain Gotti” Steward would be arrested in 2013 and charged with double murder—of a 16-year-old and his friend, who were shot dead on their porch in 2007—after a detective followed up on a tip about the rapper’s lyrics, the Daily Mail reports.

Police are increasingly taking to the Internet highway to cut down, stop and even arrest those who terrorize the streets.

As social media grows, reputed gang members across the country are using the platforms to flaunt guns and wads of cash, threaten rivals, intimidate informants and, in a small number of cases, sell weapons and drugs—even plot murder, the Associated Press reports.

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“What’s taking place online is what’s taking place in the streets,” David Pyrooz, an assistant professor of criminal justice at Sam Houston State University who has studied gangs and social media in five big cities, told AP. “The Internet does more for a gang’s brand or a gang member’s identity than word-of-mouth could ever do. It really gives the gang a wide platform to promote their reputations. They can brag about women, drugs, fighting … and instead of boasting to five gang members on a street corner, they can go online and it essentially goes viral. It’s like this electronic graffiti wall that never gets deleted."

As the social landscape changes, police are now monitoring gang activity online and even using a gang’s social media exploits to issue arrests.

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Recently, some Chicago gangstas took to YouTube to create a music video of sorts. The bare-chested young men spouted expletive-laced lyrics and warned rival gangs not to play with them, all the while pointing assault weapons directly at the camera. They flashed gang signs while making it clear to everyone listening that they weren’t afraid to shoot.

Also watching their warnings was the Chicago Police Department, which recognized the two young men as felons who were prohibited from being around guns.

Both were later taken into custody.

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Along with traditional investigative techniques, police can even communicate with gang members using aliases while tracking their activities and rivalries, looking for ways to cut short potential flare-ups, AP reports.

But one of the biggest obstacles that police face is the ever-evolving language of the streets, since police often have to decipher street talk, which varies according to gang and city. A gun in Chicago may be called a thumper or a cannon. In Houston it’s a burner, chopper, pump or gat, while New Yorkers refer to a flamingo, drum set, clickety, biscuit, shotty, rachet or ratty.

Deciphering that slang was a significant factor last year for New York police and prosecutors as they pursued a digital trail of messages on Facebook and Twitter, along with jailhouse phone calls, to crack down on three notorious East Harlem gangs tied to gun trafficking, more than 30 shootings and at least three murders, according to AP.

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Authorities collected hundreds of social media postings to help build their case. Some messages, according to an indictment seen by AP, were vengeful: “God forgives, I don’t … somebodie gotta die,” one suspect posted on his Facebook page.

“I don’t wanna talk. I want action n real guns,” another said on Twitter. Others were boastful: “My team not top 2 most wanted youth gangs in Manhatten for nothin we got guns for dayss,” a third posted on Facebook.

In total, 63 gang members were indicted.

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“These Facebook and Instagram postings are sometimes our most reliable evidence, and they become our most reliable informants in identifying who’s in the gang,” says Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. “Gang members are Instagramming pictures of themselves with guns and cash. They are communicating about where to meet before they do something related to gang activities. They brag about what they’ve done after the fact. We see that again and again and again in these cases."

In many cases, gangs do little to hide their identities, even though they know they’re leaving an electronic fingerprint for police. “I guess the need for recognition and street cred must outweigh the potential for being arrested and charged,” Nicholas Roti, chief of the CPD’s Bureau of Organized Crime, told AP. “They don’t seem to be that worried. They may feel they can hide in numbers. There are millions of pictures and posts. [Their attitude is,] ‘I’ll take my chances.’”

Last summer, when a North Side gang in Chicago rapped about the death of a reported rival on YouTube, police responded. They arrested two felons for violating parole but also found 38 grams of crack cocaine, along with one of the weapons featured in the video, police told AP.

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“You can now gangbang from your living room,” says Alex Del Toro, program director at a branch of the Youth Safety and Violence Prevention program, run by the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago. “Who would have thought that 20 years ago? … Back in the ’80s or ’90s, gang members didn’t want to take their pictures. Now they’re all over YouTube.”

Stephen A. Crockett Jr. is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.