Role for social media in solving crime

Sat, Sep 29, 2012, 01:00

ONLINE INTEREST:EXPERTS IN Australia have said the role of social media in the hunt for information relating to Jill Meagher’s abduction and murder is unprecedented.

Kristen Boschma, a social media expert in Melbourne, told Australia’s The Age newspaper that the level of interest in the case on social media was “unprecedented other than natural disasters in Australia”.

A “missing” poster for Meagher, posted by her husband Thomas from his own Facebook account, was shared almost 3,000 times, while the “Help us find Jill Meagher” Facebook page, set up just hours after it was announced last Sunday that she was missing, garnered over 67,000 supporters by Wednesday morning, and a further 60,000 in the next 24 hours. On Twitter, Meagher’s name was mentioned more than 12 million times using #jillmeagher and #meagher hashtags, which became trending topics.

The level of interest in finding Meagher allowed the police to widely circulate CCTV footage, which resulted in a significant number of people coming forward to the police with information.

As social media networks become more mainstream, police forces around the world are realising their value in reaching an audience who may have information that would assist in their inquiries.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police has established a Center for Social Media which aims to equip law enforcement officials with the social media tools to assist them in solving crimes with help from the public.

There have been a number of instances where social media have played a critical role in solving cases. In New York the Utica Police Department has reported 11 successful arrests in four months following the use of social media in criminal investigations. The arrests relate to bank robberies and other thefts. In some instances, coverage on social media has resulted in suspects turning themselves in for fear of greater coverage and attention, particularly when their photographs are published online.

Jill Meagher’s husband, while thanking the public for their online support, asked people to be careful what they post on social media websites in case they damage the legal process: “While I really appreciate all the support, I would just like to mention that negative comments on social media may hurt legal proceedings, so please be mindful of that.”

Meanwhile, a statement by Victoria Police investigating the murder asks people not to post comments that could potentially interfere with the investigation and anything before the courts.