Blue Line


April 7, 2015  By Hayley Fox

Preventing and detecting crime, identifying risk factors, solving criminal activity in a timely fashion, managing tight budgets with limited human resources and juggling competing interests are challenges law enforcement faces in the struggle to make and maintain safe and healthy communities.

We have all been witness to tragedies where social media formed a material component. There are countless examples where telltale signs and red flags were posted on various social media sites before the event. Recently an assailant posted his intentions on Instagram in the morning and shot two NYPD officers later that day.

There is a growing trend for perpetrators to boast of their plans or actions online. As a result, there are large amounts of public information available on social media that can assist law enforcement in tracking and disrupting criminal activity. It is often difficult, however, to filter the vast amounts of unstructured data and unearth the relevant information.

Many police agencies recognize the value of online monitoring and use social media regularly, filtering the data manually. This is an exhausting and time-consuming process that requires enormous budgets and person hours.


Technologies are now available to automate this process and instantly alert law enforcement about posts of interest within predefined areas, thereby identifying actionable intelligence.

When investigating a viable social intelligence platform, an important factor to consider is the breadth of coverage. Currently there are more than 1.35 billion Facebook users and over 500 million Tweets per day. Instagram is the preferred photo-sharing site, with 300 million active users, while Yik-Yak is the up and coming campus social platform, used in more than 1,600 universities.

These social channels represent a small percentage of the social media landscape and all present heavy demands on law enforcement resources.

Consideration must also be given to the number of available channels that a solution covers, as well as how much data is actually being pulled from those sources. For example, having access to the full Twitter Firehose (all Twitter content) is a requirement for investigations, rather than a marketing solution which provides a sampling.

The right tool allows you to separate useful information from the noise and pull relevant posts that do not include geo meta data but still infer location based upon content. With the majority of posts not containing precise location or geo meta data, this advanced filtering minimizes the risk of missing relevant posts.

Most social media monitoring tools are designed for sentiment analysis, used to deliver brand marketing information to help a company grow a product’s presence and customer base. Law enforcement requires a more granular approach for more speedy and surgical investigations. The gold standard in social media monitoring solutions will allow you to gather intelligence based upon a combination of keywords/terms and location to highlight conversations of specific interest.

For example, viewing 5,000 social media posts made in a jurisdiction over the course of an afternoon is not helpful or meaningful; however, having these filtered to 35 posts that match your exact search criteria is actionable intelligence. These same platforms should identify the author of the post, mark them as a target and capture their historical and ongoing social activity. Solutions dedicated to law enforcement should also allow investigators to further uncover, explore and analyze known associates and their group relationships.

Another key component available is an investigative tool with the ability to do an historical search by recreating an event from a social perspective, as if it was known that it would happen. The capture of social media posts in a designated area over a short timeline identifies potential witnesses or accomplices that you might otherwise not have known of, as well as the commentary around the event.

Social media has evolved to form part of our cultural DNA and therefore investigators and analysts must integrate this into their investigative processes and efforts to control criminal activity. Using the described technology is the way to accomplish this task in an organized and efficient manner.

“Social Media Intelligence tools might save investigators and analysts thousands of hours of work,”<2> the Georgia Bureau of Investigation stated. We can no longer simply ignore social media monitoring and need to welcome the new investigative approach of Social Media Intelligence.


  1. Feinblatt, John (2014-12-13). “The number of school shootings since Sandy Hook is higher than you think”. MSNBC. Retrieved 2015-01-19

  2. A copy of the GBI social media policy entitled “Guidelines for the Use of Social Media by the Investigative Division” is attached as Appendix B to the Global Justice Information Sharing Initiative, Developing a Policy on the Use of Social Media in Intelligence and Investigative Activities: Guidance and Recommendations (February 2013), 29-35


Hayley Fox is the marketing manager for LifeRaft Navigating Social, a company specializing in the development of Social media data mining software. Visit for further information.

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