“Data is so precious and there is a real willingness for LEAs to innovate. Though innovation is not an easy task and it’s hard to acculturate high level management. A good way to work together is by creating connections and exchanges.”Workshop Participant
As the growth in the development and use of social media has drastically transformed the way people communicate and share information, so the approach to ensuring “everyday security” – the daily management of public security with the aim of preventing and responding to offences committed in public spaces and which threaten the security of the community in its daily life – has needed to change. Social media has presented LEAs and others with a range of new sources for intelligence, investigations, crime prediction and prevention or new platforms to communicate and interact with citizens. Our recent workshop in Barcelona, the theme of social media and its uses for everyday security was discussed and explored in depth.
Although the field of social media in everyday security can be considered as very broad, our workshop focussed discussions on 3 important topics:
- Social Media as a Communication & Engagement Tool: Citizens can better assist with reducing crime and general disorder. They can provide real-time information as well as sharing their ideas to solve community problems and so improve security strategie. Social media has facilitated these. It has the potential to improve the accessibility of policing services for community members, with two-way engagement being a tangible benefit for police forces and citizens alike. Furthermore it can be used to improve the effectiveness, legitimacy, transparency of citizen collaboration and community participation.
- Social Media as a Monitoring Tool: Social media provides a constant, real-time data resource offering almost constant views of real world activity. Law Enforcement Authorities are harnessing the potential this offers by using social media analysis to stop crime before it starts through predictive policing and in using the information it provides to better understand criminal phenomena, crime perception and in so doing develop strategies to counter it.
- Social Media as an Investigative and Enforcement Tool: The same data flows generated through social media also offer a valuable resource to LEAs in investigating crimes and enforcing laws. LEAs frequently use the internet in order to gather information and evidence, visiting websites such as those on the dark web that allow or promote hate propaganda, or forums allowing anti-social behaviour as well as gathering information and media from citizens in a further demonstration of the communication benefits these platforms provide.
During discussion, it became clear that there are significant main challenges for LEAs using social media in policing.
The adoption of formal policies and processes to enable a single, consistent approach to the use of modern technology. The advent of social media has created new spaces for the police to understand and police, created and increased pressure to enforce new offences, creating a need to further balance discretion with workload and resources. Police forces have now acknowledged the need to develop specific training techniques and practices for appropriate and effective use of social media in their work.
Alongside the opportunities present by social media is a constant debate about potential threats to individual freedoms where personal data is used in an intrusive way. The respect of individual freedoms, mass data analysis, the need for anonymity in its use, or the problems with online activities and their area of jurisdiction pose limitations. In addition, data protection and privacy should be reinforced as fundamental rights and procedures should be reviewed to effectively protect citizens. LEAs therefore need to understand the ethical and legal limits of using this data and adapt their approaches accordingly. This would be assisted by the formalisation and homogenisation of legal frameworks throughout Europe to facilitate better coordination.
The workshop also led to many useful ideas for improvements following discussion and in-depth SWOT analysis of the key topics mentioned above.
For example, it was noted that for operational activities besides communication, such as monitoring or intelligence, there is a lack of a common or generalised knowledge on social media use. Moreover, in Europe there are large differences between countries, cities and LEA units regarding their understanding and use of social media. This lack of common knowledge could be a drawback in LEAs work. For instance, illegal activities organised through social media platforms have an impact beyond national borders and national legal frameworks. Homogenised procedures for online and social media activities at the European level can facilitate LEAs and other security providers work in their day-to-day activities.
Furthermore, senior managers or directors of public or private organizations – particularly LEAs and governments – are not fully aware of the threats posed or opportunities offered by social media. It was thus concluded that there is a need for training. However, the requirements for each type are different: senior managers should be aware on the need of new departments with specialized skills and knowledge that could support special investigation and intelligence units, practitioners should be trained on more operational or technical insights.
Another issue raised is that social media platforms embody new threats or reinforce existing weaknesses as a new public space (for example through dissemination of hate speech, online harassment, extremist propaganda), It was therefore decided that to tackle these emerging threats and weaknesses, not just LEAs alone should work to mitigate these risks. Cooperation is key: local and public authorities in their role of prevention or social media companies as data holders can play a part.
The final recommendation was that social media companies should be key players in to get involved in the definition of procedures and legal frameworks on the use of social media information for security purposes. It was continually brought up throughout the workshop that their collaboration on sharing of anonymous data, educating young people on its use and assistance with prevention is a complete necessity if we are to ensure safety for all.
This workshop in Barcelona on social media in everyday security was a further contribution to the ever-increasing debate on the use of online space, and social media in particular, for public security. These discussions allowed all parties involved to voice any worries, suggestions or ideas they may have, and to come together to produce recommendations for frameworks and collaboration on security issues affecting online social media spaces and the stakeholders involved.
Copies of the reports from this workshop will be available shortly from the workshop page on this site. You can contribute to the ongoing discussion about these issues in our LinkedIn group and via Twitter using #media4sec and #evdaysec.
Pilar De La Torre