How are police responding to crimes taking place in and/or coordinated through digital spaces?, by going digital themselves.

Crimes and criminality are as old as people themselves.  In societies of today, crimes are not only responded to in the physical settings but also online.  Police respond to these crimes with creative methods that match the old adage “If you can’t beat them then join them”.  Police develop websites and join social media spaces in order to help identify criminal behavior and provide communication outlets for concerned citizens.  Crimes heavily policed using web based methods include Chayko, 2017 “ identify fraud, theft, internet scams and spam, drug trafficking, exposing children to pornographic images, sexual predation, and kidnapping”.  Criminals who are active in digital spaces make it much easier for police to keep tabs on them – Fussell, 2016 “Local police departments are increasingly turning to social media platforms to monitor crime committed both online and off, lurking on profiles and gathering data on suspects”.


Police on Twitter

Police have taken to social media to search for and respond to criminal activity.  Twitter and Facebook are heavily used social media sites and are used by police for criminal investigations and monitoring.  In only 6 months of 2016, Twitter had received over 2,500 requests from police departments for specific information (Fussell, 2016).  In regards to Twitter specifically, many local law enforcement agencies have set up Twitter accounts to help monitor criminal activity.  Monitoring Twitter accounts is an effective tool for law enforcement because oftentimes with little effort police are introduced to criminals not afraid to post about their behaviors.  According to Fussell, 2016 “Bratton, partially summarizing an old maxim about crime, referenced how often suspects unwittingly incriminate themselves online. “It’s not that we, the police, are so smart; it’s that they, the criminals, are so dumb,” he said”.  The effectiveness of using Twitter for policing has not caused concerns to go away.  Using Twitter for policing has raised questions regarding citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights and what is considered a reasonable expectation of privacy.  There is much debate still surrounding social media, its governance, and levels of privacy. As Fussell, 2016, mentions “Imagine if, every time you logged onto Instagram or Twitter, you saw the warning: “Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.” It sounds absurd, but it’s quickly, quietly becoming the new reality of our online lives.”   


Police Officer Computer

Police on Facebook

In addition to Facebook being the most widely used social media site, it is also a tool for fighting crime.  Oftentimes Facebook is used by police do to its reach and exposure to criminal activity, allowing up to 80% of law enforcement officials citing use of Facebook in their departments (Can the Police Use Facebook, 2017).  Facebook receives requests from governmental agencies in high volume for access to users information for various reasons. Facebook addresses the requests case by case and only infrequently shares data. When law enforcement and other agencies concerned with public safety request information, Facebook typically only releases the information in cases where there is risk of a serious injury or death (Can the Police Use Facebook, 2017).  Police also use Facebook to fight crime when Facebook’s cooperation is limited. Police departments create their own Facebook pages, both conspicuous and undercover to address crime. Facebook pages used by police departments can be used to communicate with the public and act as another form of communication for community safety and engagement. Police also can go under cover, with tactics such as “friending” individuals seen committing illegal acts and requesting them as a friend to gain access to them and their network of friends.  Police departments that use Facebook are challenged with the same arguments over privacy rights as when they use other social media sites such as Twitter and Instagram.

The Future of Digital Policing

The trend of law enforcement using social media sites to help in investigations and criminal monitoring may slow as greater restrictions on privacy are instituted.  Large data mining companies have been able to access social media sites but are then sometimes sharing that information with law enforcement. This creates feelings of ill trust between social media giants such as Facebook and Twitter in regards to users privacy protections.  It is however paramount for law enforcement that they be able to access the virtual world where many criminals are active. The future for police and social media looks to be a balance between respecting the rights of citizens with protecting citizens which requires chasing criminals in the various spaces they go.     


breakingtheset. (2012). Police are watching your facebook: Big brother watch. Retrieved from

Chayko, M. (2017). In Kelly S. (Ed.), Superconnected: The internet, digital media & techno-social life. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Fussell, S. (2016). The many ways cops are patrolling social media. Retrieved from https://fusion.tx/story/349533/twitters-transparency-report-remove-videos-block-police/amp/

WKBT-TV. (2016). Police use internet to arrest armed felon. Retrieved from

WMTW-TV. (2013). Police: Social media makes reporting crimes easier. Retrieved from







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