Twitter as an Aid to Law Enforcement

The Question: How can information that Twitter users post about themselves, their actions, locations, and their feelings be used as an aid for law enforcement and government agencies in criminal investigations?

The Answer: Although Twitter may not be the main means of solving a crime, the fact that people are so open to Twitter definitely makes it a helpful aid in solving crimes. Twitter can be used more to find leads into someone’s life to know whether or not to engage in further traditional investigation. When officials know the basics of an incident such as location, time, and specifics involved, anything tweeted relating to these things can bring attention to any user. For instance, if law enforcement knows that a robbery that happened two days ago was committed by a member of a certain gang and they know the type of weapon the suspect possessed, if someone constantly tweets about their membership in that same gang and posts pictures of the new gun they bought last week, they are definitely presenting themselves as a possible suspect. Not only particular tweets, but the location features of social networks allow everyone to see where you were at what particular time. This is definitely a handy resource when trying to get to the bottom of things. Also, simple associations to people can possibly put yourself up as a candidate for questioning. If you tweeted the suspect an hour before the incident saying, “I’m about to call you,” then now you are associated. People are so naïve to the fact that ANYTHING you say on a social network like Twitter can be interpreted in any way. Not saying that people should be afraid to tweet normally, but there are certain things that just should not be shown or said. People tweet as if it’s just an ordinary, passive activity, but any law enforcement official or detective can pay attention to the technicality of your tweets and twitpics and take your leisure activity of tweeting to a completely new height. Again, Twitter may not be the primary means of getting to the bottom of criminal incidents, but tweets can either be the clue to help start a new leaf of investigation or the ending note that brings a previous investigation full circle. Everyone should just watch what they tweet.

Law Enforcement Uses Twitter to Make Cases

Primary Materials
1. Twitter Profiles
2. Different information fields offered by Twitter
3. Statements from law enforcement officials

First off, there are several different fields that Twitter allows for people to disclose "who they are." These include name, biography, location, and actual tweet fields. Looking at these, it is apparent that it is really up to you how much everyone, including law enforcement  can see about you. The name field can expose enough to look suspect seeing as though there are people who put strange things as their name like "$37 MAD3 NIGGA". Does that not look suspect in itself? I, as a normal Twitter user, don't have a clue what it means. Is  $37F a gang or a neighborhood? Law enforcement may know. Also, the actual @names people choose sometimes hint to illegal behavior. For instance, there are twitter names on my following list such as "@KushAndAmbition" and "@CallMeDaWeedMan". Both of these names hint to the substance of marijuana which is clearly illegal. Another interesting name I found was "@DaOneWayTeam". This name sticks out to me because I know from common knowledge of my hometown that the "One Way" is a gang/violent neighborhood named after its main street which is a one-way street. There are crimes and arrests there all the time so this Twitter user has linked himself to that neighborhood for everyone to see, including law enforcement. Is that really smart? If the police want to find people from that neighborhood for questioning or to look further into his tweets, this particular user is in the spotlight simply because of his @name.
My next important primary material is the actual Twitter profiles of users, specifically their tweets. Twitter has a #Discover option that allows you to filter through tweets and find practically anything you type that has been included in someone's tweets. Because i saw a lot of @names including the word "kush", which is a slang term for marijuana, I typed it in the search box. Thousands of tweets came up. Comments were made such as, "I am smokin a ounce of kush wit my bros before we TURN UP at #SFATypeOfPArty". Again, they are blatantly expressing their possession and intentions of use for marijuana, an illegal drug. Another tweet reads, "I got a bottle of red berry ciroc and a blunt of kush on my dresser." This person is not even old enough to drink Ciroc (an alcoholic beverage) and she is boasting about a blunt she has in her possession. If police were top look t her tweets. she would have a hard time pleading a case that she doesn't smoke or has never drank alcohol. Trying to impress peers could get a lot of Twitter users in trouble.
Obviously, some people are just reckless tweeters. A lot of people in my particular age group are just blatantly obvious with crimes when it comes to tweeting. The things that I have noticed are extremely obvious things; imagine if police caught heed to a secret code word or phrase used by gags. Te way people tweet, it would be very easy to locate people and do further investigation just by typing that phrase in a search box. Although Twitter may not be a widely spread method of locating and investigating criminal , I think it definitely can and probably will grow to be one because it is so simple to navigate and people use it so loosely.

So What?

The audience that my research directly pertains to is anyone who uses Twitter. Thousands of people put information on Twitter daily that is accessible to more people than they are always aware of. Most people think that their tweets are only viewable by their own followers, which is not always true. People who don’t follow you can see your tweets if they retweet them and people with more authority than the average Twitter user can gain access to them as well, such as law enforcement officials. To be more specific about my intended audience, I refer to them as reckless tweeters.” Those are people who post their every move and every aspect of their life to Twitter. These moves and aspects may be illegal, immoral, or tie them to certain crimes and they may be oblivious to the possible consequences. They are an important audience, because they should know that even if you aren't a criminal, and even if you have no connection to any crimes at all, the tweets and pictures you put on Twitter can bring you into a spotlight of investigation that you more than likely don’t want to be in. Different people observe things differently, and people such as law enforcement who have a motive for interpreting most likely will see it in a way other than how you may have meant it. My research for this topic is not to teach criminals how to remain out of law enforcement’s view, but my goal is to show the innocent people who use Twitter as a social network how not to expose too much of themselves to be interpreted as someone not as innocent. I plan to add research and show the methods taken by agencies to gain knowledge about people, the types of things that make a particular user look suspect, and I would like to bring light to the secret hopes that law enforcement has for the future eavesdropping on Twitter users.

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