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Social Media Proves Crucial for Indicting 63 Alleged Gang Members in New York

On Thursday, in a case that reinforced the idea that any social media post constitutes admissible evidence, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance noted that crucial evidence for indicting 63 alleged gang members had been obtained from posts made to their Facebook and Twitter accounts. Many of the defendants had used social media to discuss crimes including shootings.

Vance said at the press conference, “This is how people are communicating … It’s no different than talking about getting together on Saturday night – or getting together on Saturday night to go shoot somebody.”

The defendants belonged to three rival gangs in East Harlem. The gangs had been at war with each other since 2009, following the killing of a 19-year-old gang member. Retaliatory violence led to numerous shootings and several killings over time.

The defendants communicated over social media using slang and signaling terms.

One defendant, looking for ammunition for a .25 caliber handgun posted, “I need some electricity for the 2&5 tra(i)n…”



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Social media posts provide documentary evidence and thus exclude oral evidence in most cases. For prosecutors, they are also better than wiretaps or traditional informants, because there is no necessity to follow the procedures of oral evidence giving, including cross-examination opportunities.

Vance said the case was different from others in that in most conspiracy cases there was an economic motive, but in the instant case, people had conspired to commit violence for the sake of creating violence itself, and nothing else.

At least 49 of the defendants have been charged for first-degree conspiracy, which carries a maximum penalty of 25 years to life imprisonment.

It is rare for a case involving such a huge number of defendants include critical evidence gathered from harvesting social media.

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