Why gangs in Africa love social media

May 30, 2017

Social Media has enhanced the way gangs in Africa communicate to their clients. In a investigation involving how the continent’s top gangs are using dark net to sell their products and services, mainstream online platforms like social media emerged as recruitment for lawbreaking groups. Nigerian and Ghanian drug smugglers as well as illegal arms dealers are among those using social media to sell passports stolen in their thousands across the continent to assist in their criminal activities. One of the investigator told your blogger that passport fraud was among the biggest threat facing Africa together with migration, terrorism and poverty. West African countries of Nigeria and Ghana have unfortunately gained a reputation as one of the major centres for the forgery and alteration and trade of stolen passports. A number of foreign syndicates based in Nigeria and Ghana are buying and selling stolen passports both altered and unaltered for use mainly by criminals based in other countries. The syndicates set up shop there because it is a very profitable enterprise given the little attention by the Nigerian and Ghanian authorities.In the age of social media and online self promotion, where lawbreakers can upload footage of their illicit exploits for kudos, being the subject of a moral panic is nowadays a source of pride and an inducement to offend.No doubt if you check some of those gangs social media accounts, they sensationalise crimes and make celebrities of criminals and with millions of unemployed Africans able to access such content with ease, no doubt vulnerable folks seeking notoriety will imitate those crimes and just few days ago one gang posted short video of them for all to watch how crimes pays.This is also seen clearly in the rise of gangs in East Africa. A loose collective of youths has come to be associated with a much reported rise of carjackings and home invasions in the region. In South Africa, throughout last year, gangs were the subject of intense media scrutiny. National newspaper articles, online blogs and forums regularly attributed the South Africa’s rise in crime to such gangs. In several publications i was able to read, it seemed the term gang became a catch-all for youth crime in South Africa.The fact is, hard evidence shows that not all gangs in Africa are organised crime gangs as most in social media and news media would want everyone to believe.As investigators have noted, most of them are less of typical gangs and they are mostly a loose network of youths connected by social media. Forums like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and websites like blogger, Tumblr represent a platform for such youngster to coordinate activity and promote crimes that its members have committed.While the social media certainly didn’t create such gangs, it has helped transform them into brands. Also sensationalised news coverage by mainstream media especially in Kenya and South Africa has fostered several crimes committed under such group’s name by individuals only loosely, if at all, connected with the collective gangs.

In this sense, such gangs are now not so much traditional gangs as a hashtag, a rallying cry for lawbreaking youths who otherwise have little connection with one another. The social media sensationalising of such members’ exploits like selling marijuana online acts as free publicity and a recruitment drive for such youths.Throughout last year, as the mainstream media ramped up its coverage of such collective groups, the number of individuals affiliated with them grew. Some of them had fewer than 20 members in 2015, but they are now estimated to have grown to upwards of 300 members at the beginning of 2017. Investigator i spoke to attribute such growth to the groups becoming better known on social media and in public domain.Most of them primarily use social media to coordinate activities, legal and illegal. But an increasing number of organised crime gangs and lawbreakers use these sites as platforms to promote their crimes and i can confidently when you see some of their posts on Tumblr you’ll be surprised with their marketing prowess.The top five African countries with most advanced marketing tactics online are Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana, Kenya and Angola. Many of Angola’s acts are performance crimes staged for the camera mainly in Luanda, the capital and a social media audience. Such stunts are undertaken to build reputation, fame and notoriety.In Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, giving the individuals and groups who undertake crimes additional mainstream media attention is exactly what they want. Some of them have marketed themselves perfectly online. It is well known that perpetrators commit such acts with the hope they will receive coverage, which many Kenyan online publications eagerly provide in addition to mainstream media. In Nairobi, there is a Facebook page dedicated to hosting videos of street fights and bare-knuckle brawls mainly in poor suburbs of the capital. Interestingly, the page has a name not related to the country and is borrowed from a street gang of 1980s Jamaican gang. As with South Africa, sensationalised news reports on fight pages and other forms of media can increase the number of individuals connected with such groups. In Johannesburg, many fight pages wear such reports like a badge of honour, and post screenshots of headlines and stories they feature in to great applause from their followers on Twitter and Instagram.In my view, the increased profile and membership demonstrates, giving such groups sustained mainstream media attention and sensationalising their crimes will continues to have negative consequences for the community where they operate from and their countries.Amplifying criminal behaviour through sensationalised reporting will definitely attract more members for such groups and end result is going to be ineffective criminal justice policies that are widespread in African countries. Undoubtedly, social media platforms offers free promotion for individuals and groups in search of infamy and notoriety across Africa, but as I was taught in elementary school, crime doesn’t pay and no matter how much money those who’ve acquired it flaunt it online, the end will be painful if not catastrophic.

Contador Harrison