In an effort to combat drug trafficking and crime in their neighbourhoods, residents of Brazil's favelas have started posting photos and videos of gang conflicts to the internet. For instance, this video – shot by locals during a two-hour-long gunfight in February – illustrates how there's clearly some friction between the CV (Comando Vermelho) and TCP (Terceiro Comando Puro) gangs in Rio's Vila Kennedy slum, a warning to any locals to stay clear of the area.
Gang members are also getting in on the action themselves, using services like Facebook, YouTube and WhatsApp to both flaunt their power and threaten their enemies. In fact, Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo recently used the profiles of gang members "Lacosta" and "Dennis" as source material for an article about the rivalry and competition over territory in the hills of Serrinha, eastern Riol, and Cajueiro, western Rio. Although both men are reportedly being investigated by the police, Dennis has been updating his profile regularly – but still hasn’t accepted my friend request.
The increasing internet access in the country's favelas, seen first as a victory for these poorer communities, now serves as a direct, real-time window into the lives of those involved in drug crime.
And this social media brazenness isn't anything new. In late 2012, a suspect identified as "Shrek" was arrested after being recognised from the photos he'd been uploading to his Facebook. Similarly, in 2012, Nando Bacalhau – a drug lord from Chapadão, in the northeast of the country – appeared in a series of photos showcasing his bodyguards, weapons, gold chains and harem of women, despite the fact a $2,000 (£1,200) reward had been offered for his capture. He was arrested shortly after posting the album.
I didn't have to search too hard to find the profiles of other wanted criminals, such as Marcelo Santos das Dores – who, according to his profile, is an entrepreneur at "The Dealing of Besos" (a slang word for "kisses"). Marcelo is currently listed as a fugitive, but considering he last updated his Facebook on the 12th of February, it doesn't seem like he's too fussed about his status as a wanted man
Skimming through these accounts – some of them clearly fake – I noticed that, besides the exposure, they also serve as a channel for communication with other suspected traffickers. Messages posted on Facebook timelines, groups and pages show gang members exchanging information and threats as readily as your aunt would share 600 nondescript photos of her holiday to Menorca.
One image that pops up regularly is the Batman symbol, representing Marcio Jose Sabino Pereira, AKA Paizão Bat-Gol, AKA Big Daddy Bat-Gol, AKA Mathematician, AKA Astronaut – a TCP leader who was shot dead in 2012 in one of Rio's largest ever police chases. Users remember him and mourn his death by posting photos of customised guns and little coke baggies embellished with the Batman symbol.
Of course, like the majority of human beings, these guys also have a soft side. The threatening language used against police and militiamen often comes hand-in-hand with a disclaimer, letting readers know that whatever they do is supposedly for the good of their community.
But you don't need me to tell you this; type TCP into Twitter and you'll see it all for yourself.