The police and social media


THE Chief Minister of Karnataka, Siddaramaiah, recently urged policemen to utilize social networking sites to reach out to the public during emergencies.
Extremist groups fight simultaneously at the physical level and on cyberspace. To execute their immediate agenda and launch attacks, the terrorists make use of physical space, sometimes for a few hours, or a few minutes.
However, in order to wage a psychological war they ensure their continuous presence on social networking sites. The proliferation and effects of such sites have generated a new debate on how to counter their presence and ensure surveillance of social networking sites.
Referring to the Rawalpindi incident on Muharram 10, the Punjab law minister condemned the negative use of social media. There is an impression that social media fanned the flames of hatred after the incident.
To reinforce their influence, extremist groups increasingly rely on social media but our law enforcement and regulatory agencies still don’t know how to tackle the challenge. Social media can be effectively used to bring the police and community on one page. In mega urban centres, apart from the physical presence of the law enforcers, people expect the on-line presence of the police.
Social media has enabled protesters to quickly organise and communicate with each other. To keep the protesters under control, police must know how to monitor these types of communications. Further, social media sites are also helpful in identifying witnesses, victims and perpetrators.
Police need to learn quickly about social media to keep pace. Many police forces around the world have started to use it for engagement, intelligence and investigation, and often release pictures or videos of wanted criminal and terrorist suspects on their websites.
In the case of emergencies, sites such as Twitter and Facebook are effective ways to disseminate crime alerts, investigation updates, safety alerts and to counter propaganda.
According to a study conducted by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, “81pc of 728 [US police] departments surveyed said they used social networking”.
Social media sites have proved helpful in the collection of evidence. It has also helped identify the location of suspects. Several criminal cases have been cracked thanks partially to social media, as police kept tabs on suspects, the less sophisticated of whom bragged about their exploits and updated their pages naming the people and places they had visited.
More than 100 current and former extremists were interviewed for the study, which found that social media enabled people to develop associations with extremists and terrorist groups.