3 Ways the Police Use Social Media to Stop Crime

by faradiva on July 25, 2013

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3 Ways Police Fight Crime Using Social Media

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You don’t always hear about the positive side of Facebook and Twitter in the media, but the incredible influx of social media has led to some effective crime-fighting techniques that law officers are employing all over the country. CNN reports that 4 out of 5 federal, state, and local officials use social media to gather information when investigating a crime, with Facebook and YouTube being the most beneficial. Most amazing of all, many police departments are relying on computer-savvy young people, often college students, to help them learn then ins and outs of these sites and how to really mine for information. What can they find out? It turns out that it’s not just everyday citizens who have to worry about their personal information being online. Criminals are easy to monitor, as well.

1. Going Undercover on Social Media Sites


You’re probably familiar with Dateline NBC’s To Catch a Predator, which highlights how FBI agents pose as underage girls in chat rooms to catch pedophiles. These kinds of tactics have been used for years, and so it’s only natural to assume the next step would be creating fake Facebook and Twitter accounts to monitor suspects of crimes. And this has been done successfully. In March 2013, Slate reported on the Boston Police Department’s successful work stopping punk rock house parties by posing as young music fans on Facebook. Normally, false profiles would be used for far more serious crimes than that, but the question of whether they’re legal or ethical is not yet decided. Most social media sites prohibit impersonation, but the evidence collected by going undercover is still admissable in a court of law, so the FBI and local police still see the benefits.

2. Requesting Information from Facebook and Twitter

Social media sites have developed their own policies for requests from law enforcement to turn over private information. Usually, a subpoena or warrant is required in order to obtain data such as locked profiles, but once the information is retrieved, it’s easily admissible as evidence in a court case. Sites like Twitter have proven they’re willing to engage in legal battles to protect the privacy of users, like in a 2012 case where they refused to turn over tweets made by an Occupy Wall Street protester despite a subpoena. But in case of an emergency or credible threat, police can file an emergency request. Facebook has a hotline for emergency requests staffed by legal experts who apply high standards to so-called emergencies, even though none of the sites are legally obligated to comply with these requests.

3. Crime Blotters and More


While investigating social media can yield important evidence, a greater police presence on Twitter and Facebook can open doors of communication. Police and sheriff’s departments have had success with online crime blotters, where crimes around the community can be tweeted as they happen. This not only helps citizens stay away from areas where police emergencies are taking place, it also enlists their help in providing tips and information about crimes they might have witnessed. Police can also post traffic warnings about accidents and fires around town. Facebook pages are used in a similar fashion, and officers can post pictures of missing children and crime suspects. Larger departments such as New York have mobile apps where you can access a database of criminals and crime statistics. This means there are now employee at the police station who dedicate part of their day to updating social media.

The enormous amount of data that social media allows access to can be a little scary, but it can also help keep citizens protected. Veteran police officers are now leaning to embrace social media in new ways and better understand how it can help them solve crimes and catch perpetrators. The world is now overrun with technology, but it’s comforting to know that law enforcement is making the very best of it.

Brett Harris writes articles for several colleges that offer online classes such as some of the best criminal justice schools nationwide.

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