Hey, hooligan: Why are you bragging about stealing that hipster’s iPhone on Twitter? Cops use social media, too!
In fact, four out of five law enforcement officials use social media during criminal investigations, and half turn to tools like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube on a weekly basis, according to a survey published earlier this month by LexisNexis.
Two-thirds of the 1,200 federal, state, and local law enforcement officials surveyed believe that social media helps them to solve crimes more quickly than relying on old-school methods. Furthermore, when challenged in court, search warrants utilizing social media to establish probable cause hold up 87 percent of the time, according to respondents.
Social media “is as valuable as a police cruiser or a handgun,” LexisNexis’ Haywood Talcove told CNBC.
And officers aren’t just using social media passively to monitor users’ updates — they’re also actively reaching out to their own followers to net potential leads. New Jersey Police Lieutenant Tim Reed told The Press of Atlantic City that he turns to Twitter when he hears a report of a burglary, a robbery, or a missing person. “You need a partnership with the people,” he explained. “If you don’t have it, you’re not going to solve the problem.”
“We have gotten a lot more information,” he said. “Tips we didn’t have before [because] people see it as soon as we put it up there. Twitter goes right to Facebook and to our website. That’s quick.”
Now, one might wonder why a criminal would broadcast his or her latest lawless triumph to the world via a tweet that anyone could come across. But, as Talcove noted, sharing is human nature. “Criminals have that same desire to share and to show-off,” he said. “I don’t think they can resist using these tools.”
Think about it: The tendency to overshare comes not just from the criminals, but also from targets. Checking in on Facebook or Foursquare from a faraway location or posting real-time photo updates while on vacation are invitations for burglars to swing by a vacant home.
And they’re RSVPing. In a survey of 50 convicted burglars in the U.K., 78 percent said they’d used social-media sites to target properties.
So, to review: Don’t share anything on a social network that you don’t mind the entire world — including thieves and police — seeing. Limit online sharing to photos of your cat and what you ate for lunch — you know, the important things.