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How Twitter and Facebook Are Helping Nab Bad Guys

Social media is constantly evolving. From a platform to share our photos and musings or catch up with high school pals, it's turned into a venue for job searching and now for fighting crime. As crazy as it sounds, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are helping law enforcement clean up the streets one tweet, post and share at a time. A survey on social media and the law showed that 96% of law enforcement agencies use social media in some capacity.

Other interesting findings from the survey conducted by the International Association of Chiefs of Police include:

  • 86% of agencies use social media to help with criminal investigations
  • 92% of agencies use Facebook, 65% use Twitter and 43% turn to YouTube
  • 80% of agencies report they've solved crimes using social media

The Viral Value of Social Media in Combating Crime

Recently, after a Washington DC Petco location was hit by a "cat burglar" that stole two kittens, pictures of the kitties and video footage of the crime went viral and lead to the arrest of the perpetrator. There are two sides to the crime-fighting capabilities of social media – civilian and law enforcement. When civilians spread the word about crimes and share images, it raises awareness and can help rapidly ID criminals much faster than traditional investigative methods would allow.

It's far more likely that most of us would see a Facebook post, Instagram pic or read a tweet about a crime than we would watch the news or browse the most-wanted list at the Post Office. I personally haven't been to a PO in months and usually go once a year at Christmas. On the other hand, I'm on social media throughout the day, every day, and am much more likely to run across an item that could lead me to contact the cops if I saw someone I recognized committing a crime.

Social Media Help Smart Cops and Exposes Dumb Criminals

From the law enforcement side of things, police are often able to gather evidence on criminal activities by checking suspects social media feeds. It's absolutely shocking how many do-badders are dumb enough to post pics of themselves wearing stolen goods or talking about their score. Crimes ranging from shoplifting to car theft and even murder have been solved by police using social media. Earlier this month, a teen posted a selfie with his victim after he (allegedly) murdered a classmate.

Even when criminals are more circumspect and post privately, police have been able to tap friends of suspects to access the feeds or have set up phony profiles to friend the criminals. A federal judge ruled that suspects lose claims of privacy when they share on social media. The judge wrote that, “[the] expectation of privacy ended when he disseminated posts to his 'friends' because those 'friends' were free to use the information however they wanted – including sharing it with the government.”

In addition to catching perpetrators after the fact, police are using social media to prevent crimes by sending out alerts to notify the community about crime sprees, escaped criminals and the most recent scams. Think of social media as the evolution of the neighborhood watch that can reach a much larger community. And, when concerned citizens are too frightened to make a call or speak to a cop in person, a blind post on social media can be a risk-free way to report crime. 

criminal / shutterstock

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