Social media creates a new revolution in crime investigations, as DNA did more than thirty years ago. But social media plays a double role. Just like DNA it is an important source of information. But it is also the platform on which the new ‘digital detective’ and the online Sherlock Holmes work (together) in law enforcement. Social media democratizes crime solving and amplifies the role of citizens in law enforcement. This changes the ’DNA’ of each officer and is a game changer in all aspects of police work. Our new book, “Social media: the new DNA” is about this change. It shows how the detective and the amateur can strengthen their relationship using social media and together build a safer society.
Social media, the world of Facebook, Twitter and Youtube, have made an enormous impact on our society. Over the last five years, social media have changed the world of public order and security as well as the investigation of crimes. One could even say a revolutionary development is taking place. The meaning of this revolution might not be valued yet, but it has and will continue to have great consequences when it comes to the organization and methods of the police and it’s professional partners. Now, not only the partners, but also civilians are playing an increasingly crucial part within the security domain.
The articulate civilian has long stopped being a passive follower of the police and investigative services: he or she has taken control thanks to the possibilities provided by social media. Often there is a case of civil investigation, for example: the sharing of an alleged crime with a large crowd or actively participating in the online search for offenders. Civil investigation is changing the balance of power between the police and civilians. Although social media offers many ways for people to exchange information, create solutions for problems and work together, there are also drawbacks. People used to take to the streets to express their dissatisfaction, nowadays they stay at home, behind the screen of a computer and use social media. Groups of people such as hooligans, mobilize fans and opponents to organize a riot. Some people radicalise through social media and commit the most horrifying crimes. Criminals and terrorists plot their activities on the internet or use the internet as a way to commit thievery or even as a cyberweapon. An increasing number of offences has a digital component or is completely digital.
On the other hand: social media does give the police more options when it comes to prevention, investigation and crowd control. After all, a lot of information on people and organizations can be found on social media. This information can be linked to the in-house data sources, thus enabling intelligence-controlled actions. Social media can also be used in criminal investigation. The organized mental power of civilians – the wisdom of the crowd – is already being used in a small number of cold cases. It is called webbed investigation: working with a number of partners, often from the public-private domain and increasingly international, but also more and more with the help of civilians and communities.
It is vital that the police monitors the events on social media in this virtual world. Should there be a lot of messaging, the police have to be able to determine the tendency of these messages and how to respond to them. Next to monitoring it is also crucial to develop intervention strategies. Immediately after an incident there is a need with the public for official information, even when there are a lot of uncertainties about the nature and cause of the incident. Communication is more than just informing, it is also responding.
Doubts and moral dilemmas go hand in hand with these changes and possibilities. How will civilians adapt to their new role and what do we, society as a whole, find acceptable? What are the parameters for the police when it comes to gathering information on citizens? Which technology can and cannot be used in doing so? What are the consequences with regards to the privacy of civilians and suspects? Will evidence which is gathered online by civilians be admissible in court? As often in a revolution, policy makers and authorities cannot keep up with all the changes. In that respect, the socalled Facebook riots in the Dutch town of Haren were an excellent wake-up call.
The police can hardly allow itself to be overtaken by the developments. When society – and the unsafety and crime that is a part of that society – shifts from the streets to cyberspace, then the police should make that shift as well. And luckily that is more and more the case. With, for example, Twittering policemen on the beat, the Netherlands are way ahead of other countries. Social media will be a revolution in criminal investigation and enforcement, just as DNA research once was. Using social media will have to be in the DNA of every police officer.
Up until now there was a missing link in the discussion on social media in relation to investigation and enforcement: a book which approaches this issue in context. Not just from a social point of view but, more importantly, also a pragmatic one. What can or should I do with it as an individual receptionist, an operator in a radio room, a policeman on the beat or a (civil) detective? What online tools can I use to make the investigation more effective? This book pursues all this questions in great depth. It also takes a look into the future, with new developments such as the use of Augmented Reality through for example Google Glass, the Internet of Things, Big Data and Web 3.0, but also developments in the area of social media and privacy.
Social Media: the new DNA — Revolution in investigation
Authors: Arnout de Vries, Frank Smilda
Published by Sdu
The book will be released soon. There will be a hardcopy and digital ePub3 version with multimedia extra’s.