Charity Catch22 has warned that YouTube, Periscope, Instagram and Snapchat are being used by UK gangs to taunt rivals Getty Images

Social media websites are designed to bring friends and family closer together. However, fresh research highlights the dark underbelly of these platforms as it reveals they are now being used by UK gangs to incite violence.

The study was commissioned by Catch22, a charity that uses "policy and practice" to help understand and reduce gang-related crime in the UK. The fresh research, first reported by Sky News, found that video-based social media websites – such as YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram and Periscope – are now being used by gangs to upload content that boasts about crimes and gang activity.

"Most rivalries between gangs exist for reasons other than those related to social media, but young people involved in gangs often upload videos to social media platforms," Catch22 researcher Keir Irwin Rodgers told Sky News.

Crime escalation

"A very small section of those are described by young people as gangs videos and, when they go online, we often see a spike in violence afterwards, because the videos themselves talk about recent incidents of violence in the community between members of rival gangs, or they involve threats, and that often provokes a reaction from the gangs in question."

The report, which has not yet been released to the public, will produce evidence that this gang-related content uploaded to social platforms has resulted in a spike in real-world violence. Additionally, it reportedly will claim that child sexual exploitation has been broadcast live to the web by "young males involved in gangs".

The report is expected to stress that the majority of videos uploaded by young people in the UK are not related to criminal activity and problems with gang activity have more deep-rooted reasons other than social media. For their part, YouTube, Periscope, Instagram and Snapchat all said they consistently seek to combat any extreme content that users post online.