Social Safety: Solving Crimes and the Rise of Digital Vigilantes

6 June 2016

Social media is the media everybody uses to, essentially, be social with others (Safko, 2012). Since technology has had such a profound influence on society these days, the rise of mobile technologies and applications has had an impact with regards to crime and the rise of digital vigilantes.

Social Safety: Solving Crimes and the Rise of Digital Vigilantes Essay Example

There have been several issues related to the use of social media in solving crime as well as with regards to the privacy rights of individuals. Authorities have used applications like Facebook, Twitter, and FaceWatch to help identify criminals, as well as allow individuals to help them solve crimes.

They can make cases using any information posted on third party website applications as courts have determined that is voids the users rights to privacy (Kelly, 2012). Online vigilantes have also used social media to find victims and obtain their information through malware or various attempts of phishing passwords or account information online (Boone, 2011).

Users can also access these websites or applications from their mobile devices and collaborate their ideas with others. However, ethical problems have arisen with issues such as privacy and security, freedom of speech and property.

Since the rise of social media, it has led to a much different type of investigation for criminals (Knibbs, 2013). Authorities now take a much more Internet based approach to piling a case against an individual. Knibbs (2013) claims that the social network site known as Facebook is one of the most searched resources for criminal evidence. Since the creation of Facebook, officers have used it to actively pile information against individuals.

Not only can they use it to find individuals locations and activity, they can become friends with them using fake profiles to gather insider information, which may be hidden because of the privacy settings people can use on their profiles (Safko, 2012).

Facebook was originally used for College students to connect with each other, which initially led officers to pursue underage drinking on College campuses, for example (Knibbs, 2013). They could also find information about upcoming events or parties at campuses so these events can be properly monitored, or at least much more prepared for.

The reason officers have turned to using social media sites or applications to discover relevant information about cases they are pursuing is because of the fact that people nowadays turn to social media for everything (Safko, 2012). People constantly are using these applications to communicate with friends, post videos, share relevant information.

This is where officers have gotten smart, they realized that individuals share much more information than they should on these websites; leaving trails of criminal detail for these people to follow and use against them. This allows for officers to have a constant surveillance of social media applications and events.

A case against Ronnie Tienda Jr. a few years ago is a great example of the use of social media with helping officials punish individuals for crimes (Kelly, 2012).

This individual posted incriminating words and several photographs of a murder on his personal MySpace page, which was public for anyone to see. This eventually led to his sentence for murder; the evidence he posted himself was a significant aid in his trial to the juror. As this case shows, officers can use anything posted on third party sites against someone, as they void their right to privacy if they use third party applications (Kelly, 2012).

Officials can gather information from these sites to use in courts several ways. They can make a fake profile on Facebook and become friends with individuals, they can obtain a warrant or a subpoena and force the site to give them access to whatever they feel necessary, and they can be sent the information by anyone online.

Authorities sometimes have to deal with Facebook’s twenty-four hour emergency response team. Where they have to file a report to obtain access as soon as possible pertaining to certain events.

The ethical issue of privacy, as one can see, is denied as soon as a third party application contains evidence of any form. For example, post a racial slur on your profile, you can be punished if authorities find it and perceive it to be a threat.

Another intriguing opportunity that social media has given those to solve crimes pertains to ‘FaceWatch’ and ‘Connected to the Case.’ The first is an application for mobile devices. According to Badger (2012), FaceWatch allows for crowdsourcing of solving crimes. Petty crime is posted on this application and pictures of the suspects are released to all individuals, which allows for anyone on this app to help officials find the suspect responsible.

The issue with this new method for solving crime is that people could send officers on poor leads based that result in no gain to the courts. They would also have all types of individuals pointing fingers at each other for little offences as opposed to police focusing on bigger roles like assault or manslaughter, for example (Badger, 2012).

This application gives a million people a picture of an individual and has them trying to identify a suspect based on a photograph; it completely avoids the way a case normally would be solved. Police should be making connections and bridging ideas to identify a suspect rather than have a photo as the means for arrest.

The other application is web based and allows for crowdsourcing as well. All individuals have access to materials pertaining to the case and work together to add more detail and find the suspect or put a case against them (Rigg, 2012).

The issue with this in one aspect is privacy, as individuals login with their Facebook and cases that the website thinks they might relate to comes up. This might be something near their house or their school as Rigg (2012) says. Another issue again could be poor judgment and could very well end up with officials pursuing poor leads again.

A few cases that arose over the past couple years resulted in arrests from the use of social media networking sites. Officers have arrested two people who were trying to sell their children on Facebook (Knibbs, 2012).

Another interesting case was being built upon for a while, but officers could not present sufficient evidence against a gang to question and detain them. A police officer eventually created a fake Facebook profile and became friends or liked the gang’s page and learnt about an upcoming burglary they planned on their Facebook.

They obtained evidence through following them and ended up arresting the gang (Knibbs, 2012). These cases used Facebook to identify criminal activity and punish those for being involved in it.

Twitter is another social media application that can help solve crime. With over 200 million users (Safko, 2012) it has the potential to be a great source of information for criminal cases. Twitter allows for users to hash tag phrases or words that allow others to see what they post. Events that result in catastrophe cold be placed on Twitter and used in courts if officials can obtain access to the tweet.

Twitter does have a policy with regards to protection if its users and only allows access to their tweets to authorities if it is absolutely necessary, which is a good thing for the privacy of individuals (Kelly, 2012). Social media also can help individuals search for information by searching has tags to learn about events or could help individuals identify situations that they may seem to be a threat and have authorities prepared to monitor them.

A few years ago just after game seven of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in Hockey, Twitter helped solve crime. A riot broke out after the Boston Bruins defeated the Vancouver Canucks in Vancouver, British Columbia. Cars were flipped and lit on fire, stores were destroyed and the city was in shambles.

Mobile technologies helped authorities, however, as people posted videos and pictures on twitter; these tweets helped officers catch people involved in the riot and sentence them (Vardy, 2011). Twitter allows for hash tags to be seen instantly by anyone searching or on the discovery page. The hash tag that was trending during the riots in Vancouver was #riot.

Once something begins trending, any user who opens the application sees it. Vancouver received horrible views after this event, all thanks to social media, but it did help authorities punish those involved as some people tweeted pictures of people involved, or comments about their involvement.

Beckhusen (2013) wrote an article where he or she addressed the state of social media in Mexico. Since users leave trails of their whereabouts on Twitter and Facebook, they have been informed to refrain from using social media in general. A masked man or woman was killed in Mexico for using social media and they said the punishment for any individuals using social media will be the same. This exemplifies the possibility of danger to social media users.

Their exact locations are traceable, this could lead to harm of themselves, or their property. Online vigilantes can commit several white-collar crimes as well using social media. They may be able to follow individuals and use malware to place viruses on their computers (Boone, 2011). But they also could phish passwords or account information from users and leave a significant financial burden on social media users by obtaining this information through hacking these social media sites.

The last issue with regards to the location tracing possibility is the fact that burglary of goods could occur when individuals are aware that you will be outside of your home from a significant period of time. As awful as this sounds, it may be a follower or a friend who sees you post something about being away for a couple of days.

They could seize the opportunity and make a stake of claim with your goods all because you trusted a third party application and wanted your peers to know what you were up too. Online criminals are taking advantage of social media and continue to find unique ways to phish personal information about individuals.

Boone (2011) spoke about a case where Facebook users received a message from a fake profile that resembled their friends profile, this profile has users click a link to add them ass a friend. In the meantime, however, the phishing scam allowed for the fake friend to obtain their account username and password.

As many people know Facebook has a purchasing section and your credit card information could be stored, this resulted in a financial burden for some users because of smart vigilantes who took advantage of users on Facebook. Another social media issue that could result in fraudulent earnings happened in 2009, according to Boone (2011).

Mr. Brown made a fake profile resembling and using models information and pictures to receive financial benefits from her biography on Social media allows for any individual to create accounts, the problem with this is that users can make an account and resemble someone that they are not. Somebody could post a comment or slur on Twitter while using a fake account and attract attention to someone who was not at fault for the matter.

There are several uses of social media today with solving crime. Ethical issues arise with social media use in crime but it is justified for the greater good. Individuals can use Facebook or Twitter to find out news about situations ongoing in the world or identify a possibility to commit a crime. Officials can find information or trails of evidence using social media.

Privacy issues are protected in some cases but emergency teams are required to give access to users information if warrants or subpoenas are brought forward. Individuals may also be at risk themselves using sites, as seen in Mexico, where threats were issued to individuals should they continue to use social media.

Online vigilantes use social media to identify victims that they look attractive too and phish passwords or account information from them. Social media has the possibility to help catch much more criminals by evidence trails and crowdsourcing, but individuals also lose a lot of their privacy using third party websites.

References Badger, E. (2012). How the Cutting Edge in Crowdsourced Crime Fighting Could Do More Harm Than Good. Retrieved from

Beckhusen, R. (2013). Cartel Watchdog Disappears From Social Media After Death Threats. Wired. Retrieved from

Boone , J. (2011). Criminal Use of Social Media. Retrieved from

Kelly, H. (2012). Police embrace social media as crime-fighting tool. CNNTech.Retrieved from

Knibbs, K. (2013). In the online hunt for criminals, social media is the ultimate snitch. Retrieved from

Rigg, J. (2012). Connected To The Case to use Facebook for crowd-sourced crime solving. Engadget. Retrieved from

Safko, L. (2012). The social media bible: Tactics, tools, and strategies for business success (3rd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Vardy, M. (2011). Twitter playing big role in reporting of Vancouver riot.

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