The recent murder of 16 year old Christina Edkinson on a bus in Birmingham has highlighted the need for the British police force to seize the opportunity to review its policies on the monitoring of social media networking activities. Posts have been found on Christina’s account dating back to February 8th, a month before her death, speaking of a man on the bus that was scaring her. This is just one of many cases that reinforces the necessity for the police to monitor and act upon what they see on social networking sites. During the London Olympics, there was a particularly heavy presence of social network monitoring by the police in order to detect any crimes – surely this intense focus on safety should be permanent? The death of Lita Broadhurst, who posted her suicide note on Facebook, reiterates the message that the opportunities granted by social networks need to be seized upon.
The importance of social networking uniting and guarding the community against crime cannot be underestimated. The London riots of August 2011 highlighted the fundamental advantage Twitter holds, uniting people across the country. It sparked a mass clean up, stemming from one tweet with the hash tag ‘#riotcleanup’. Within hours, this sparked a national phenomenon in which people across the nation hit the streets armed with bin bags and brooms. Facebook groups inviting people to a mass clean-up event had over 2000 members. The power of social networking does not, therefore, simply stop at sparking awareness of crimes and suspicions – it attempts to amend them. Perhaps what makes social networks so successful in spreading a message is the element of speed; features such as ‘trends’ on Twitter, Facebook chat and Blackberry Messenger Service (BBM) allow news to be broadcasted within seconds across the world. Constant monitoring of expanding social media networks will give the police a distinct advantage regarding instant crime prevention.
Not only does social networking give the police the chance to be aware of dangers, it allows the police to provide the public with constant updates on any troubles, ranging from robberies to traffic updates. This free method of communication relies solely on good community spirit, such as is essential in the case of a missing person.
Gloucestershire Police have already established a personal Twitter page in which they have over 9000 followers, updating followers on both Twitter and Facebook on any on-going police operations and searches, setting a precedent of communication as a police force. Chief Constable Tony Melville said “we want as many people as possible to have access to our alerts, crime prevention advice and updates. Twitter costs the Constabulary nothing but gives us access to a potentially unlimited new audience”. The simple accessibility of social networking as free sites in which news is relayed highlights the gap that needs to be filled by the police forces across the world. Thus, it could be argued that the police need to evolve to the modern methods of communication in their attempts to fully protect the public, and social networking appears to be communicating with different strands of people nationally; whether it be the morning commuter, the teenager on his mobile in class, or the worker at their desk on their lunch break, the move to social networking can be deemed crucial in order to save lives.