Criminology in The Social Ecosystem

Last week I met with Laura Madison, a criminologist in Canada, about her research. Laura is researching how police departments across Canada, the UK, and the US are leveraging Twitter as part of their jobs. This research should act as a baseline to help police departments across these regions understand what is working, and what is not, ultimately creating a set of best practices.

While her research is not done, she was kind enough to give an overview of what she is producing.

  • An index of police-related twitter accounts across the UK, US, and Canada. This index will include both official and personal accounts.
  • For each account she and her partners are gathering a lot of data, including:
    • Number of tweets, followers, following.
    • Are links to social media policies included?
    • Level of discussion by the account, ranging from locked to talkative.

She is also collecting a lot more information which I have elected to leave out until her research is completed.

Laura sees police departments using social media to communicate with citizens and to do some research. Social media discussions are a starting point, a doorway, to begin information collection. This information can be valuable for understanding timelines, but must be taken with a grain of salt (a big grain) in terms of the accuracy of information. We are clearly in the early stages. Traditional investigations do include internet-based information and has for a while. However, pulling in social media increases the volume of information and can sometimes be useful, sometimes a complete waste of time. Until tools exist to simplify this mining and aid in verifying its accuracy, social media is likely to remain of minimal use in most investigations.

Once Laura completes her research and reviews it with the academic community I’ll chat with her further. The insights she will gain from a police perspective will also have implications to other types of organizations. Stay tuned.


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