Facebook and Twitter may be a great way to find out what restaurants are currently trending or what funny YouTube video to watch, but it turns out they can also help solve criminal cases. With the increasing popularity of various social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and even Vine (a platform that allows users to share short videos), it appears that local police departments are taking advantage of their close reach to the mass public. According to a 2013 survey, 96% of police departments use social media in some way and 80% reported it had actually assisted them in solving crimes. The top three social media platforms that were utilized the most include Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Social media has played a significant role in solving cases regarding kidnappings, murders, and even burglaries.
Examples of How Social Media Has Assisted in Crime Fighting
In Utah, a police department used Facebook to spread the word about a 13-year-old boy who was kidnapped by his non-custodial father and taken to Mexico. Once they posted about the kidnapping on their Facebook page, the public responded by providing the police department with information regarding the kidnapping.
Earlier this month, a California police department used Pinterest to help find the owner of a bracelet that was stolen almost 30 years ago. Pinterest is described as a "visual discovery tool that you can use to find ideas for all of your projects and interests." After a picture of the bracelet was added on Pinterest, three people came forward to provide information regarding the owner of the bracelet. It turns out that the bracelet, engraved with the names and birthdates of a woman's children, was stolen during a burglary in 1983. Other departments have used Pinterest to post pictures of mug shots and surveillance photos.
The Australian Federal Police has gained worldwide recognition for teaming up with YouTube and launching the Missing Person Pre-Roll Project. A "pre-roll" is a 5 second clip that is shown before the video you want to play on YouTube begins. The Austrian Federal Police used this "pre-roll" to showcase the first scrolling missing-persons campaign that reached 1.2 million people and resulted in 238 viewers recognizing some of the faces and providing new information.
A Maryland Police Department recently issued a statement that they plan to use Twitter to live-tweet a prostitution sting. They have not disclosed when or where this prostitution sting will occur but have warned Maryland residents that they plan to tweet the names of "johns" who solicit prostitutes. In a blog post, they attempted to alert any potential participants that "this type of behavior is not welcome" in their County. Their intent is to expose and arrest people who exploit women and young girls in their community.
All around the nation we are seeing police departments using social media platforms as an additional resource for gathering evidence, identifying perpetrators and finding missing persons. With the increasing popularity of social media sites it is no surprise that they are being commissioned to help fight crime.