"What they are doing online is typically what they are doing on the street," study co-author David Pyrooz at Sam Houston State University said. "For the most part, gang members are using the Internet for self-promotion and braggadocio but that also involves some forms of criminal and deviant behaviors."
The study, published in the journal Justice Quarterly, looked at the use of the Internet and social networking sites by gang members and other young adults, a university release reported Tuesday.
The study was based on interviews with 585 young adults from Cleveland; Fresno, Calif.; Los Angeles; Phoenix; and St. Louis.
While gang members are using the Internet to sell drugs, search social network sites to steal and rob and to coordinate assaults, they aren't engaging in intricate cybercrimes, such as phishing schemes, identity theft or hacking into commercial enterprises, the study found.
"We observe that neither gang members nor their peers have the technological competency to engage in complex forms of cybercrime," the study authors wrote. "In short, while the Internet has reached inner city populations, access alone is not translating into sophisticated technological know-how."
Gangs also don't use the Internet for purposes instrumental to the group, such as recruiting new members, setting up meetings or other organizational activities, the study authors said.
However, law enforcement should continue to monitor and address gangs and crime online by working closely with websites and ISPs, the researchers recommended.
"Technology is part of the problem but it is just as likely part of the solution," Pyrooz said.