History has shown us the new reality for law enforcement and their adoption of social media and its strategies. Social media is more than putting up a Facebook page and opening a Twitter account. It’s not about pretty Twitter and witty Facebook status updates.
Two leading agencies, NYPD and the Met have recognized that their social media strategies had to change. They are taking a more active role in social media and they have made public steps to work on the “surveillance” aspect of the social media strategy triangle. Take a look at the diagram above. It is my interpretation of the new model of social media strategy paradigms in law enforcement. Below are several examples of social media activities that map to each of the 3 strategies for law enforcement.
For example the strategy for “surveillance” might be active (hacking included) and passive monitoring of social media by law enforcement such that the activities do not introduce change or manipulate the actors of social media – like cyber intelligence.
The Nationwide SAR Initiative “SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING” is an example of social media straddling between “communications” and “surveillance” paradigms – like crowdsourcing surveillance.
Employers trolling Facebook and validating resume information of potential candidates are examples of strategies between the “communications” and “surveillance” paradigms.
In the “undercover” portion of the triangle, suggests a completely active position. For example the strategy for “undercover” might be active (hacking included) and passive monitoring and engagement of social media by law enforcement such that the activities will introduce change and manipulate the actors of social media, where fake or real personas will be used to manage social media and its actors.
Social media and law enforcement conferences have been selling “social media strategies for law enforcement”. The so called strategies only look at marketing. The strategies don’t have a deeper long range plan to really look at the impacts of social media in law enforcement to include riots, natural disasters, war, surveillance, undercover operations, tactical aspects, gang violence, terrorism, intelligence, computer forensics, digital forensics, flash mobs etc.
We have witnessed a total revolution in the use of social media during 2011. It is no longer just reflecting social attitudes but now defining them. Social media sites have evolved from being a form of communication through to a social activity in its own right and now into a channel for active group psychology so powerful it can over throw governments.
In the world of public security this has massive importance. The Arab Spring witnessed in the first six months of the year proved for the first time that the attitudes expressed through social media are not just the muttering of the young or rantings of the disillusioned, but can reflect the stirrings of a nation or even actually stir the nation into action. Would the events in Tunisia, Egypt or Bahrain have occurred without the presence of Facebook and Twitter, sites so uncontrollable by governments? I suspect not. If undemocratic governments had in fact realised the power of such sites they no doubt would have tried to ensure more control over them as we see in china. But can any government really expect to control the internet, maybe for a while, but in the long term it’s virus like nature will no doubt push through the barriers of any government attempts at control.
In the western world we have seen the worst riots for 20 years, London was truly burning and other cities quickly followed. It was not so much social media being used to insight the violence that was new here, but rather the rioters use of social media to co-ordinate their activities. Blackberry messenger became the rioters most useful weapon against the police, being able to target, move and attack en mass, leaving the police trailing behind for three nights in a row. The response of last resort, blackberry offering to shut down its messenger site entirely, if only temporarily.
In the attempt to maintain law and order, are draconian interventions that stop access to social media channels entirely, really the only answer? The answer is emphatically no. I for one would like to keep my civil liberties.
Public security professionals need to stop seeing social media as the problem and start tapping into it as part of the solution. In the fight against anti-social criminals, organised crime and terrorists alike, social media can be the law enforcement professionals most powerful weapon.
Seeing social media as part of the solution, not the problem
Police and Intelligence services across the world have been using material on the internet extensively for a while now in the fight against crime and terror. ‘Open source intelligence’ the use of publicly available information sources, is fundamental to most agencies daily activities and has proved hugely useful in unlocking a multitude of investigations. For social media the focus has mainly been on what is termed the ‘black web’ – monitoring ‘known’ sites that are utilised by criminals to communicate and educate one another, sites used to insight hatred and feed propaganda, or chat rooms used by predators to target the young and naïve. At an individual level, they use the web to track a person’s activity, social network and movements.