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Read the Fine Print

In my last article, we reviewed what social media is, how it is commonly used in retail, and the basics of how it works from a technology standpoint. This time, we will cover recent events surrounding privacy, live monitoring, and live video related to criminal activity.

Terms of Service

In fall 2015, you may have heard some news about social media monitoring for law enforcement and investigation purposes. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was looking into two of the larger social media monitoring vendors designed for law enforcement and investigation purposes. At that time, about fifteen such providers existed. The ACLU probe caused several of the vendors to lose their access to the Twitter API (firehouse) based on violations of Twitter’s terms of service. The ACLU obtained several emails between police departments containing details of how the service would be used and details surrounding payment to the vendors. The probe focused on local and federal law enforcement rather than the private sector.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police conducted a survey in 2015 that involved more than 400 police agencies and found that 96 percent of them used social media, in some capacity, for intelligence gathering purposes. “Social media has become a new tool for law enforcement as people like to brag about crimes that they are doing,” noted Hollywood, FL, Police Chief Tomas Sanchez (reported via CBS Miami). Twitter spokespersons publicly said their service should not be used to identify someone or to conduct an investigation. Several of the companies rebranded themselves and are back up and running.

If you choose a third-party solution, read the terms carefully and have a plan of what it will be used for. For example, if you are using social media to track an active-shooter event, that would in most cases be acceptable to the terms of service and should cause no issue. On the other hand, if you use it to try and find out who a person is talking about in an active-shooter event, that could be a violation of terms. In most circumstances, a violation of terms doesn’t equate to breaking the law. Partner appropriately before taking any action based on social media. How and whom you partner with will depend on your organization’s policies. A takeaway from all of the info surrounding the ACLU probe is the continued necessity to evolve with the social media landscape. Like any investigative method, assess whether or not it is ethical and falls within the company’s policies.

- Digital Partner -

Live Streaming

In 2015, there were multiple public and private events streamed live on social media, including more than fifty criminal acts such as rape, murder, and robbery. There were also at least fifteen suicides and several hundred protests streamed live via a social media platform. In the past 24 months, live streaming has changed the way news is consumed and reported.

When you are developing a strategy related to social media monitoring, you will need to spend a significant portion of time addressing live streaming. In the last three false active-shooter events at malls in the United States, someone was live streaming while it was happening, which allowed first responders and security professionals to get a first-person point of view. During some of these incidents, there was a misconception that guns were involved, but the tool of live streaming allowed law enforcement to identify that the incidents were actually fights. and no firearms were used. Live streaming could be the tipping point of how you react to an event.

At the Loss Prevention Research Council, we currently have a working group focused on special operation and emergency operation centers. We are reviewing the consumption of data, social media monitoring, and how to communicate it effectively. If you’re interested in learning more, please visit or reach out to me directly.

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