The two young people found hung under a bridge in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico bore a message: “This is going to happen to all of those posting silly things on the internet.” It seems that one of the drug cartels had not taken lightly to citizens Tweeting about criminal activities along the border with the United States and decided to eradicate that source of information. As social media is becoming the hub of the lives of countless millions of people around the world, it is inevitable that it becomes embroiled in criminal activities and that law enforcement agencies would be swiftly adapting to the new realities.
From Flash Mobs to the Overthrow of Governments
The recent riots in London, Vancouver, Rome and elsewhere have been largely directed via social media. The Occupy Rome protesters harnessed virtually every major social network to act as a command and control center in their recent rampage through the Eternal City. UK Prime Minister Cameron has stated that he wants to “give the police the technology to trace people on Twitter or BBM or close it down… when people are using social media for violence.” Every government assailed during the Arab Spring attempted to quash social networking to some degree as Tweets were being utilized to mobilize the citizenry and direct them to protest locations where reinforcements were required. The ability for any social networker to instantly communicate with thousands or even millions of like-minded people is proving to be a powerful tool to direct activities ranging from flash mobs to the overthrow of governments.
SoLoMo & Hyperlocal along with Miranda
The enforcement agencies whose job it is to maintain law and order have had to take crash courses in social networking applications so that SoLoMo (Social, Local and Mobile media) and hyperlocal have become as much a part of policing fundamentals as reciting Miranda. As police departments all over the world have begun to leverage social media to assist them in their duties, some are proceeding in controversial ways. Wired recently ran an article covering the use of social media by police departments and reported on a Toronto police officer who has the club district beat and checks into Foursquare every time he enters a venue. The reason? Not only to inform the attendees that there’s a cop in the room and they’d better be on their best behavior, but also to save a screenshot of everyone else who’s checked in so if anything does happen he has a witness list on hand.
How Long until Bank Robbers Tweet?
While some would state that capturing check-in data is no different than looking around a location to identify individuals, it’s a far cry from “an early 20s caucasian man with bangs wearing a black Caviar Dremes tattoo shirt” to a social media link, which usually includes full contact information. Then again, if a Foursquare user is so cocky as to check-in to a night club where they’re intending to deal drugs, it can be argued that they’ve got it coming. Social networking has become so ingrained into the lifestyles of dedicated users that it’s only a matter of time before some misguided social media-addled criminal Tweets the play by play of robbing a bank or hijacking a truck.
Police Tweet, Twalk & Data- Snack
In contemplating the impact of social media on their nations and cities, governments all over the world are taking steps that vary from training police officers how to Tweet, twalk and data-snack, all the way to shutting down entire networks in order to quell violent uprisings. Although one of the primary appeals of social media is that it costs nothing to use, law enforcements departments are quickly learning that if they wish to capture and scrutinize the vast amount of information generated on social networks, they will need to command vast and potentially unconstitutional powers of interception as well as data analysis budgets that would dwarf the CIA’s.