Should social media, including Facebook, assist in law enforcement? We all know what happened to Jill Meagher. What some of you may not know is that social media played an integral role in solving her murder. Without the use of social media, Jill Meagher’s case may have remained unsolved. Unfortunately, we usually associate social media with negative connotations; however what we haven’t thought of is the positive contributions it could make to our society. One change that we should make that would benefit us incredibly is to use social media, including Facebook, to assist in law enforcement.
I don’t have to define to you what social media is, we all use it on a daily basis. If I was speaking to an older audience I may have to explain, but to be honest most of you are going to go home and log onto Facebook. It has always been a part of our world and it probably always will be. Sadly, one part of social media that we are very aware of is that it is often used to harm, to hurt – this is clearly evident in the numerous accounts of cyber bullying. I do not intend to pretend that there aren’t negative aspects of social media; I am simply trying to emphasise the enormous power and influence that it holds.
If we could harness this power and rather use it to protect and assist in law enforcement the advantages would be tremendous. So, how can social media help us? One enormously beneficial aspect of social media is in the locating of missing persons. In Australia, one person goes missing every 15 minutes. The police simply do not have the resources to locate all of these people. However, hundreds of media sites have already been set up with the sole intent of finding missing persons. Crimestoppers have a mobile application to help connect the community to the police in reporting crime.
Assistant Commissioner Peter Barrie of the New South Wales Police said “It is a great way for people to send us a message and support it with a picture, anywhere, anytime,” The new tools offer the community an opportunity to assist in a way that is beneficial to us all. It makes sense to harness social media’s power for good – to solve real life problems such as finding missing persons. More importantly however, social media cuts down those crucial minutes when finding a missing person – the minutes that determine whether a person has hope of being found.
A powerful real life example of the effectiveness of this method occurred in November 2011 when 13 year old Allie Loftis ran away from her home near Boston. Thanks to social media, her father Tony found her 12 days later, with a 42-year-old sexual predator. After coverage of his Facebook, YouTube and Twitter campaign, local papers and TV stations followed the story and eventually found her. Mr Loftis said that “…the more people there are looking; the more likely you are to find them,” that is really just basic common sense.
Without the aid of social media, who knows what could have happened to his daughter. Secondly, social media not only provides a way of locating people, but also assists in gathering evidence on suspects. At its core, social media is an online database of personal information, and once it is online, can never be taken down. This method was used in Canada after the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup riot. The police admitted to being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of evidence provided by social media, enabling them to convict a number of rioters.
The frequency of cases being solved through evidence found on social media is large and growing as it is becoming gradually more prevalent and helpful to law enforcement. A survey conducted by the International Association of Chiefs of Police in 2012 found that 86% of agencies use social media to review profiles and the activities of suspects. This statistic shows how increasingly reliant law enforcement is becoming on social media. Of course, this is not the only way that the police can gather evidence on suspects. Many people today have online identities.
This makes it that much easier for investigators to create fake online profiles to track or befriend suspects in order to gain new information and insight into their crimes. They will also be able to gain an understanding of the suspect’s mentality through monitoring their posts, giving them the ability to secure an accurate conviction. The knowledge that the law enforcement agencies are policing the social media pages for potential criminals should provide those who use them for innocent pleasure and chat, a sense of reassurance.
Lastly, social media is one of the most effective means of communication when it comes to sending out messages on a large scale. This is why it is such a great platform to inform the public. I guarantee you that every single person in this room will have access to social media right now. Virtually all phones come with internet access; we can get onto Facebook at the touch of a button. How much easier could it get? While users are checking their messages and accepting friend requests, they surely have enough time to look at that missing person picture their friends shared.
Within seconds of the Police posting that picture, a user can share it with their entire network of friends, family and co-workers who then can share it within their own networks. A further advantage of using social media to inform the public is the relationship it will create between the police and community. Through the more personal style of communication, social media is likely to help create a climate of trust and foster better interaction with the general public. The police officers seem more “human” and therefore the public would have more trust in them.
People want to be able to talk to the police in whatever way they can, wherever they can. This can be done through social media. Through this it can be seen quite clearly that social media is highly capable of informing the public for the interests of law enforcement. I can understand that some people may have reservations due to the current unregulated nature of social media. However, the answer is not to say that we shouldn’t use it but rather to implement appropriate safeguards in order to refine and regulate these sites.
Like all new and revolutionary developments, it may take a while for it to be perfected, but soon using social media to solve crime will be no more unusual than the old fashioned pen and paper. Change is hard to accept, however resisting the use of social media to assist in law enforcement is as useless as it would have been to resist the demise of the horse and cart when cars were invented. Society naturally evolves; we need to focus on the positive and strengthening change this will have on our nation.
Our generation have embraced this technology, unlike our parents. It is natural that we should see it as part of the future of law enforcement. As many people say, the youth is the hope for our future. Younger generations do not respond, like our parents, to the traditional media such as newspapers or radio, we respond to a unique function of communication – social media. Our most important priority should be our safety, Social media is not the answer to all our problems, but it will bring us one step closer.