How Police Use Social Networks For Investigations

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Social networks are great for investigations. They provide the ability to connect with people who are similar to your target audience and can give you a valuable perspective. You can also use social networks for marketing purposes, which is why it’s important to understand how they work and what types of insights you can glean from them. In this article, we’ll discuss 10 ways social networks can help you investigations.

How Police Use Social Networks For Investigations

Social network services are increasingly being used in legal and criminal investigations. Information posted on sites such as Instagram, Orkut, and Facebook has been used by police and university officials to prosecute users of said sites. In some situations, content posted on Myspace has been used in court to determine an appropriate sentence based on a defendant’s attitude.

The U.S. DOT National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has made federal grants available to states to train law enforcement officers to use social media sites to identify events that may result in impaired driving or consumption by minors. As of 2012, Michigan spent over $4.5 million through this program, and has trained over 100 local police officers to use social media sites to identify and target events.

Social media can be used as an investigative tool to obtain probable cause for a search warrant. So far, this procedure has not been disputed in court because digital law has lagged behind technological progress. Agencies can surveil social media sites via software programs, such as X1 Social Discovery, MediaSonar, and Geofeedia.

Alcohol policy violations

It has become increasingly common for colleges and universities to use Facebook to investigate underage drinking and violations of dry campus policies. Students who violate these policies may be discovered through photographs of illicit drinking behavior, membership in drinking-related groups, or party information posted on the Facebook website. Some examples of such investigations are listed below:

  • In October 2005, pictures from Facebook were used to cite violators of university alcohol policy at North Carolina State University. Charges included underage drinking and violations of the dormitory alcohol policy, specifically holding open bottles of alcoholic beverages in the dorm hallway. A dorm resident advisor originally wrote up citations for 14 different students, some of which were dropped. Details were not released by the university, but the incident received news coverage including articles in the official school newspaper and segments on local TV stations.
  • In November 2005, four students at Northern Kentucky University were fined for posting pictures of a drinking party on Facebook. The pictures, taken in one of NKU’s dormitories, proved that the students were in violation of the university’s dry campus policy.
  • In November 2005, Emory University officials cited members of the Facebook group “Dobbs 2nd Alcoholics,” referring to the second floor of a campus residence hall, for conduct code violations. A similar drinking group, “Wooddruff=Wasted,” was also investigated. The group’s club members only discussed “having fun in Wooddruff” and said no photos of students were ever posted on Facebook.
  • In response to the monitoring, some students have begun to submit “red herring” party listings. In one case at George Washington University, students advertised their party and were raided by campus police. The police found only cake, no alcohol, and later claimed the dorm raid had been triggered by a noise complaint.


Facebook and other social networking sites are being used to bring bullying outside of school. Students are being targeted on the internet and even mobile devices. A new strategy to catch cyber-bullies is being implemented in Reading, Berkshire:

  • From February 28, 2011 until May 2011, Thames Valley Police Officers will be using Facebook to catch cyber-bullies. With the help of a teenage volunteer, the police will go through Facebook pages to investigate reported instances of cyber-bullying. If there is anything inappropriate found, a Facebook message will be sent to the offender which will warn them of the consequences of bullying. Along with the message, the student’s parents will also receive a letter highlighting the incident and the potential consequences.
  • In May 2012, Lake Havasu Unified School District #1 used evidence found on Facebook to catch multiple cyber-bullies after a discussion on a post that the one who felt bullied was not involved in. The school district acquired the list of comments through another student, who printed them out and handed them in to the school administration.
  • In Bangalore, India, school students of certain schools were all asked to delete their Facebook profiles in the wake of cyber bullying.
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Indian law addresses some of the components of cyber-bullying. However, the perpetrators are children and therefore alternatives to criminalization and other policies should be adopted.

How Do Police Use Social Media

Over the years, law enforcement has adopted social media in many different ways — and a new report discusses in depth just how the tool can be used to support police work.

The study, called Best Practice in Police Social Media Adaptation, is part of a larger project called Comparative Police Studies in the EU (COMPOSITE) that aims to understand organizational change in European police operations — but that doesn’t mean the findings can’t help law enforcement in the U.S.

The report showed that the use of social media by police has many different benefits and highlighted those benefits through real-world examples. It also outlines nine areas where social media can be used by law enforcement to improve operations, with brief examples and analysis of each. The nine areas are:

  • As a Source of Criminal Information
  • As a Voice in Social Media
  • To Push Information
  • To Leverage the Wisdom of the Crowd
  • To Interact with the Public
  • For Community Policing
  • To Show the Human Side of Policing
  • To Support Police IT Infrastructure
  • For Efficient Policing

Despite its name, the report is not intended to be a step-by-step guide outlining best practices, researchers wrote; it is to “present the variety in best practice applied by different forces in different countries,” the report states. “Our report thus functions as a crayon box, a modular toolset, that allows other police forces, researchers and industry to look for solutions that fit their particular needs best.”

While social media can be a powerful tool, particularly for budget-constrained departments, the question of how to best harness social media and integrate its use into daily operations is an open-ended one, according to the report. There are yet undiscovered uses of social media that police could one day use.

How Social Networks Can Help You Investigate Crimes.

One of the best ways to connect with potential witnesses and suspects is through social networks. By using social media platforms to post photos, videos, or stories about your investigation, you can build relationships with potential informants and sources. Additionally, by contacting people on social media who you’ve met before, you can get their side of the story.

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Use social networks to find information about crime

Social networks are a great resource for finding information about crimes. You can use various search engines to look for specific information or check for news articles that may have related to your investigation. Additionally, many websites offer tools that allow users to research different types of crime and investigate possible suspects in minutes.

Use social networks to find people who may have information about crimes

When it comes to investigating crime, it’s important to have access to as much information as possible. Social networking platforms can help you identify people who may have incriminating evidence or knowledge about acrime happening in your community. Additionally, by following up on leads from friends and family members, you can gain vital information that could lead to an arrest or conviction for someone involved in criminal activity.

Use social networks to find people who may be able to help you with your investigation

It’s also important to consider using social networks as a tool for recruitment purposes. By reaching out to people who are likelyto be helpful in your investigation, you can get them on board without having them sign a confidentiality agreement first! You can also use social networking platforms as a way of advertising your investigative services online or in print publications. This can help you attract potential witnesses and suspects who may be more likely to come forward if they know that they can reach out to someone with authority.

How Do Police Communicate With The Public

Perhaps today more than ever, communication matters. For police and law enforcement professionals, having the interpersonal skills necessary to effectively communicate with fellow officers, subordinates, higher-ups, community members, victims and their families, other departments and jurisdictions, and the court systems is critical to the mission of “protect and serve.” Police communication skills — needed to investigate crimes; de-escalate situations; build trust with communities; and write memos, reports and grants — are crucial for everyone working in law enforcement, and especially for those with leadership aspirations.

The police may communicate using open data, digital and social media platforms or via face-to-face interactions. Engagement with media organisations is addressed in a dedicated section on media relations. The various ways in which the police communicate should be proportionate to the needs and requirements of the different communities served.

Many of the top officers and professionals in law enforcement have cited effective communication skills as a key ingredient to their success. That’s because the most successful law enforcement leaders understand how to communicate with people from diverse backgrounds under varying and often unpredictable conditions. They use communication to build trust, create transparency and foster an atmosphere of mutual respect and empathy, be it in the office, on the streets or in the courtroom.

What Does Good Police Communication Look Like?

Using what are sometimes referred to as “tactical communication skills,” many police officers are trained to use a set of strategies in the field that can help diffuse situations and identify the root cause before they escalate out of control. In order for officers to effectively communicate with their community, earn their trust and get citizens to cooperate with their instructions, some effective communication strategies that are deployed include:

  • The “80-20 principle,” which was originally used in sales, says that officers should spend 80% of their time listening and 20% talking, and then use what they hear to make a connection.
  • Using body language to show the person that the officer is listening carefully.
  • Asking many questions, and making simple requests, one at a time.
  • Asking open-ended questions, especially questions that begin with “what” and “how.”
  • Understanding how “emotional contagion” can benefit or hurt you. A person with mental illness may not understand all of the words an officer says, but the person will sense their tone and attitude. If the officer is shouting orders and appears tense, that increases the tension. Speaking slowly and calmly can help de-escalate the situation and convey to the person that the officer is not in a rush, that they have as much time as needed to converse and reach an understanding.
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Ways The Police Communicates With The Public

Open data

Open data allows information (data) produced by public bodies to be freely available to the public. For the purpose of this guidance, data is non-personal information held by or on behalf of a public body. This is usually in electronic format, but it can cover physical formats as well.

This openness allows members of the public to hold public sector bodies to account (for example, by seeing all expenditure made by a public body).

It also allows data from different sources to be put together in applications (for example, mixing property price and crime data on a map) and makes sharing data between public sector partners more efficient. Applications – often referred to as ‘mash ups’ – can take the format of websites, mobile phone applications, or reports and papers.


The concept of open data is not new. Although the term is currently in frequent use, there are no commonly agreed definitions.

For this guidance, the following have been used.

  • Open data is data that can be freely used, reused and redistributed by anyone.
  • It does not include private data such as individual’s names.
  • In relation to public services, open data means data available under the terms of the Open Government Licence.
  • The presumption is that data about public services will be open data, although there are some exceptions to this on confidentiality and security grounds. It may be that some data held in relation to public services is made available, but is charged for.

Open Government Licence

The Open Government Licence is a simple set of terms and conditions that allow the free reuse of government and public sector information. For organisations that are not public bodies, there is the Creative Commons by Attribution or other recognised open licence.

For further information see Open Government Licence(opens an external website in the same tab) information from The National Archives.


Social networks can be a great way to help you investigate crimes. By connecting with people in your community, you can find information about crime and potentially help solve it. Additionally, using social networks to find people who may have information about crimes or be able to help you with your investigation can be a helpful tool. By following these tips, you can make Social Networks an effective tool for investigating crimes.

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