In Minnesota, as in other states, law enforcement officers use social media on a daily basis. In days gone by, the police would put up wanted posters when they were looking for the bad guys. Police radios and patrol cars were major tools for tracking down criminals. While traditional crime-fighting tools and methods still have their place, social media has become the go-to resource for purposes of investigation, often with surprising results.
Happenings are posted continuously
Protest details are posted, flash mobs are organized and events of all kinds are recorded through words and pictures on Facebook, Instagram and similar sites. Anyone can access the information provided, and many times, this is how law enforcement gets leads nowadays when tracking criminals. They may find information on Craig’s List that helps them unravel a case about fraudulent sales, or locate the video evidence that can be used against a child pornographer. Criminals tend to brag about their sordid accomplishments, and in our age of instant communication, they frequently go online to boast.
Photos and videos provide important information
In years past, law enforcement personnel had to conduct surveillance to establish an association between two or more people. Today, they can look at photos and videos posted on social media. It might be a family gathering that produces evidence of desired associations that might lead to important information or even capture of a wanted criminal. Metadata and geotags of images can help pin down location details. If the police have the name of a suspected shooter, it is only natural to go online to see if that person has a Twitter or Facebook account; it is detective work made easier. A warrant is not necessary; digital evidence can be collected wherever it is found.
Social media and jury members
Social media can present problems, too. Mistrials have occurred because of jurors who have not followed the instructions they were given. They have gone on the internet to research the case for which they were serving, which is not permitted. They have also been caught posting biased opinions about ongoing cases or using Twitter to make comments about a trial while seated in the jury box.
Written policies include social media use
In addition to using social media for investigative work, most police organizations have written social media policies in place for two main reasons: to deter any kind of action that might compromise officer safety and to prohibit language or activity that might be damaging to the department.
Evidence used in court
Information gleaned through social media channels can be used in court. It is especially popular for evidence in divorce cases. It can be used to discredit witnesses or to prove the association between gang members. Criminal defense attorneys are experienced with the many ways it can be used as evidence in their cases.