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Using Social Media to Fight Crime

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on June 03, 2015 3:55 PM

Last week, a woman was groped on a Brooklyn, NY subway. That might have been the end of the story, but instead, she took a photo of the man with her cell phone and gave it to police, who in turn gave it to the press. Now the article is being shared on Facebook and Twitter, and the perpetrator is more likely to be found than if the victim had only given officers a vague physical description.

The NYPD has been famous for using social media to fight crime. (Or infamous, depending on your perspective.) But the department is merely reflecting what citizens are doing more and more for themselves -- utilizing technology and social media to prevent crime and catch criminals.

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One of the best aspects of social media is how quickly it can disseminate and gather information. Obviously, this information has to be accurate, as we saw the many ways misinformation can be harmful in the case of the Boston Marathon bombing.

But when the information is accurate and people are responsible, good things can happen. Last fall, several people who attacked a gay couple in Philadelphia were tracked down via Twitter, Facebook, and a little sleuthing by an anonymous Twitter user.

Social media works best when information is shared, especially with police.

No Self Help

Sure, the tale of a Colorado woman stealing her stolen bike back after seeing it for sale on Craigslist sounds romantic, but self help is not a great idea. If you discover the guilty party via social media, it's better to turn the information over to police, who can then press charges.

Not only is self help dangerous, but it may negatively affect any future prosecution.

Safely Social

Social media is also great at preventing crime before it happens. Police can use social networks to update the public about dangerous conditions or police activity. Or like the Philadelphia bars and restaurants that used social (and standard) media to share photos of a female thief known for dining and dashing, round up a known criminal.

You can also do your part to keep yourself safe. Don't tip off criminals to your summer vacation. And maybe don't post photos of yourself with stacks of cash.

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