Facebook is used by drug, gun and human trafficking gangs to organize, intimidate and boast. Some police say they are glad, from an investigative standpoint, that social media giants don’t always chase crews off their rigs.
In June of last year, the Drug Enforcement Agency claimed to have received disturbing news from a cooperating witness: government “documents” from a drug trafficking investigation in West Virginia had been released, including confidential information previously provided by the witness, on Facebook.
A Facebook user called Dashonna Farmer was found to be selling the files for just $50, according to a search warrant and criminal charges filed in the trafficking investigation. But it turned out she was also selling some of the DEA’s intelligence for a lot less: when Square, Jack Dorsey’s payment processor, was asked to provide data on his Cash App account, he showed several transfers between $3 and $5 for “paperwork,” investigators said.
The government says Farmer received the documents, also on Facebook, from a user called Maggie Smith who had been charged with drug trafficking along with a dozen others earlier in the year, and it appears Smith may have be acquired files from his attorney as part of discovery in the investigation of drug trafficking. According to Facebook posts acquired by investigators, Smith told Farmer: “When I met with my attorney, she asked me if I had a phone on me because [because] I wasn’t supposed to get anything watching the discovery, but I had to. They then exchanged images of DEA intelligence reports and frequently used the name of the cooperating witness, according to the warrant, because the government feared the information could be used to intimidate witnesses. (Neither Farmer nor Smith have entered pleas and they await jury trials. Forbes contacted their legal representation but had not received a response to requests for comment at the time of publication.)
The case is one of many reviewed by Forbes in which gangs – whether they’re smuggling drugs, weapons or people – continue to use Facebook, even though its Messenger app isn’t encrypted by default and police are known to collect significant amounts information from social media giant Meta. Indeed, current and former police officers say the gangs’ use of Facebook and other social media is a huge boon to identifying crew members.
On various social sites, “these gang members advertise, they broadcast what they’re doing, and that helps us identify them,” says David Auner, who oversees gang investigations at the Los County Sheriff’s Department. Angeles.
Even though the police say they are not totally against gangs using social media, Facebook does not allow it. Meta reviewed the cases sent by Forbes and a spokesperson said, “We do not allow criminal organizations to use Facebook and Instagram, and we remove these organizations from our platforms when notified. We also have zero tolerance for content promoting the sexual exploitation of adults or children, and the sale of illegal drugs or firearms. We have well-established processes for law enforcement to request data from us and to respond to valid law enforcement information requests on a regular basis. We also work closely with the police when we believe there is a risk of physical injury or a threat to life safety. They added that Meta has more than 40,000 people working on safety and security and spent around $5 billion on safety and security measures in its apps last year.
The cases show how federal and local law enforcement are taking advantage of gangs’ use of social media platforms. Some police officers, in fact, say that they would prefer that Facebook and other social media sites not intervene and moderate the content or messages posted by gangsters, although at the same time they would like to prevent abuse on the social media site. “Thank you Christ for social media,” says Daniel Linskey, former chief superintendent of the Boston Police Department and now consultant at Kroll. “From an investigative standpoint, I’d like to see them work, because that’s going to give me clues and evidence.” Yet, he says, “If we could stop some of the taunting and bullying and some of this bickering on Facebook and other social media, that people feel they have to settle with a bullet, if we could l Preventing it, preventing it is always better than… investigating and responding to it.
Of the many investigations in which Facebook has proven to be a conduit, a handful have involved the violent criminal street gang, the Bloods. In a search warrant from Danville, West Virginia, the FBI was explicit about how the gang used the Meta site: “Blood members and their associates routinely use Facebook as a recruiting tool, to take credit for themselves. violent incidents, to communicate with each other about their criminal behavior, to promote the gang’s image and to schedule gang meetings. Bloods members previously told police the crew would use Facebook to “share information about an ongoing crime and provide surveillance or other intelligence to members prior to a criminal act.”
This has been confirmed by FBI raids on Facebook accounts linked to the Bloods, as seen in a recently unsealed warrant in which an alleged mobster used Facebook Messenger “to communicate with others regarding the distribution of controlled substances on multiple occasions. to many people”. and “to collect money from several subjects repeatedly”. In another 2020 warrant, police searched the Facebook of a Bloods member suspected of robbery, saying the account “not only may contain evidence regarding the Speedway Mart armed robbery, but may also contain corporate evidence indicating composition and activities”. of the Bloods gang. And in another West Virginia in 2019, when police were investigating a gang slaying involving the Bloods and another crew, the Rollin 60s Crips, they searched the victim’s Facebook account, thinking it might have revealed who helped coordinate the murder.
Other cases reviewed by Forbes over the past few months show Facebook being used by a sex trafficker in which he allegedly posted a video of an assault on a victim, and an investigation where a cartel used Facebook to discuss arms sales, alongside others where minors had been targeted by suspected traffickers.
That Facebook, Instagram and other social media are used by gangs for various reasons is nothing new, but collectively the cases point to continued use of Facebook by America’s most dangerous and violent criminals, and come a few months after whistleblower Frances Haugen fled. files at the the wall street journal showing how Meta’s company struggled to contain drug and sex traffickers using the site.
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