Social Media in Law Enforcement
The contemporary organization relies heavily on technology to monitor its progress and receive feedback from its customers. This aspect has made social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter be the most widely used social media sites. The US Department of Justice has acknowledged that 22% of Internet users spend most of their time on social media (US Department of Justice, 2013). Therefore, corresponding agencies have also embraced this trend as an essential tool for law enforcement in their activities. Additionally, they have employed it for disseminating vital information to the public. Many police agencies have resorted to social media as well in tentative and experimental ways. Since it is a new phenomenon, other agencies have not applied a comprehensive approach to overall philosophy of social networking. However, there are also negative effects that social media platforms have on law enforcement. This essay critically examines the positive and the negative influence of social media on the organizations and other stakeholders.
The law enforcement agencies and organizations are finding ways of using the social media platforms to disseminate sensitive information to the public. For instance, Brunty, Helenek, and Miller (2013) state that police in larger cities are resorting to the use of Twitter, Facebook and Youtube to gather information on threats, riots, and other isolated criminal activities. The Toronto Police Service has been described as the most remarkable police agency in adopting social media for law enforcement (US Department of Justice, 2013). It is also through the social media that the police can track communication that can cause mayhems. Additionally, in the contemporary society, there is an emerging trend of people posting pictures and information about the crime scenes. These phenomena have made it easier for the police agencies to respond promptly to such situations. Therefore, social media can be regarded as an essential tool in the response to criminal activities.
The social media platforms have also been used as a significant tool in controlling mass demonstrations. When countering civil disobedience and violent demonstrations, the police department maintains public safety while protecting individual right to freedom of speech. The development of new communication technologies has also changed the way how groups congregate for mass demonstrations. This has enabled the police department to have detailed information hence making possible the earlier preparation to combat a violent demonstration that can lead to massive destruction of property.
It is also easier to monitor the flash mobs organized by different illegal parties, which cause unnecessary disturbances during the night. Most of these groups usually resort to social media to seek attention from the public. Most of these illegal parties have been reported to involve people using illegal drugs that make them interfere with public safety. Therefore, the police can obtain such information before the event and prevent such individuals from doing heinous activities. The security plans can be organized as well to ensure adequate preparation to avoid incidences such as illegal street racing.
The social media can also be used to track the traffic offenders. For instance, in the developing countries, most drivers are notorious for breaking the traffic rules. Therefore, there are effective measures taken by some of the states where such drivers are captured and shamed on social media. The traffic police can then trace such offenders and take appropriate legal actions against them. This strategy has proved successful in controlling traffic offenses especially in most of the developing nations.
Social networking has become a significant source of evidence for defense and prosecution as well. The defense personnel in the court room usually embark on Facebook pages, Youtube videos and Twitter feeds to discredit the witnesses. The same channels are also used to establish one’s connections with gang members. This is possible because most of the perpetrators have the tendency of bragging on social media about the crimes they commit. The sexual predators have been nabbed and apprehended, too, as a result of the online activities carried on social media.
While, on the one hand, social media has great positive impact on law enforcement, on the other hand, it has also had negative influences on the law enforcement process. There have been cases of accidental release of confidential information through social media that can damage the reputation of the security agencies. Before the intensive usage of social media, letters were mostly used for conveying information that should not be widely spread. However, nowadays it is difficult to reverse or delete information from the minds of people after posting on social media. This aspect is explained with the fact that information posted on media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Youtube spreads rapidly and widely in seconds. If the data are confidential, it becomes difficult to convince the public otherwise. When confidential information is accidentally released it can also hamper the efforts to curb terrorist activities.
Another disadvantage of social media in law enforcement is that it makes easy for unauthorized employees to speak about any entity. There is an emerging trend of people creating fake social media accounts to post stereotypic information that can harm an organization’s reputation. Individuals creating these accounts might be the employees of a particular company using a pseudo name. It is usually difficult to trace such people and block them from opening the same accounts due to the availability of fake IP addresses. These activities can sabotage the agencies’ objectives of ensuring law enforcement.
The social media platforms have also been used by the terrorist groups to recruit young people in their terrorist organizations (Perlroth & Isaac, 2015). For instance, ISIS has been mentioned as the most notorious of them for using social media to lure the youth. These organizations usually recruit their targets by tempting them with luxurious lives and money. They later use these freshmen to conduct criminal activities that usually lead to massive loss of life. This aspect has made it difficult for the police all over the world to manage the peace-keeping objectives. Scott and Dedel (2006) have also pointed out that it has been difficult to suspend the Twitter accounts used by these terrorists to conduct their activities. This is because as soon as one account is blocked another one is created. Some technologists have acknowledged that the efforts to crack down on the use of social media by terrorist have been futile.
The social media has also been used as a platform for jeopardizing cases in courts of law. Suspects usually violate the law discussing the case on social media platforms to confuse the pending cases. For instance, in 2010, during the Chandra Levy murder trial, a case was dismissed basing on the fact that it was discussed on Twitter. Such strategies have been used by many suspects of some criminal activities to prevent justice.
From the managerial perspective, social media has also influenced the communication at the agency level. Perlroth and Isaac (2015) have pointed out that agencies have embraced social media for recruitment purposes. The characters of the potential candidates are analyzed through observing the posts on social media. Concerning the need for agency policy governing social media use, each agency has to decide whether to allow its employees to use social media sites, whether they can do it during working hours, which information can be posted or discussed and which cannot, with which purposes can they use their accounts (both personal and professional or not) and determine any other aspects concerning social media use.
In conclusion, social media has many positive and negative impacts on law enforcement efforts. For example, on the one hand, it has enabled location of many criminal activities through observing the communication. Most of people describe such strategies as the breach of privacy but they play a significant role in enhancing security. On the other hand, social media has been used as an instrument to sabotage the process of justice. Therefore, it is an obligation for the judiciary system to ensure there is massive reformation in the rule of law to enhance integrity. Public awareness campaigns that inform the youth how to avoid being lured by the terrorist organizations should also be carried out. These strategies have the potential to ensure harmonious usage of social media and enhance the law enforcement outcomes tremendously.
Brunty, J., Helenek, K., & Miller, L. (2013). Social media investigation for law enforcement. Cincinnati, OH: Anderson.
Perlroth, N., & Isaac, M. (2015, December 7). Terrorists mock bids to end use of social media. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/08/technology/terrorists-mock-bids-to-end-use-of-social-media.html?_r=1
Scott, M. S., & Dedel, K. (2006). Street prostitution. Washington, DC: U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.
US Department of Justice. (2013). Social media and tactical considerations for law enforcement. Retrieved from http://www.policeforum.org/assets/docs/Free_Online_Documents/Technology/social%20media%20and%20tactical%20considerations%20for%20law%20enforcement%202013.pdf