Social media has drastically changed the job of asset protection. The job, which traditionally involved securing physical spaces, now has a digital element that adds a layer of complexity that can’t be ignored. The effect social media has on asset protection is complicated. It is neither good nor bad.
On one hand, it can be an invaluable tool for gathering information, active threat monitoring, weather events, and conducting investigations. On the other hand, it is a digital meeting place for criminals to case businesses and plan coordinated crimes. The invention of social media dates back all the way to 1997 with the launch of Six Degrees—a website where users could create a profile and send out friend requests. This was followed by Friendster in 2002, MySpace in 2003, and finally, Facebook took off like wildfire in 2004, eventually becoming ubiquitous and changing the course of communications forever. Although social media is not “new,” its increasing prominence over the last few years has made it hard to imagine life without it. Even if we are not actively using social media, the dissemination of information throughout society is taking place on these platforms.
The New Town Square
Around ten years ago Bill Gates said, “The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow.” What was an astute observation ten years ago, seems like an obvious statement now. These social media platforms are no longer fringe websites people visit to look at cat photos, they are integral parts of our society. Considering the societal and political impacts of social media, it’s surprising that it is still largely anonymous, which means that criminals can operate online with little fear of their social media activity raising any flags. We are seeing an alarming rate of criminals using different types of social media to spread and receive vital information used for nefarious purposes. The big platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, do a decent job of cracking down on the sharing of this information but with the vastness and prevalence of the internet, it’s nearly impossible to get ahead of it.
Community-oriented websites offer a straightforward way for criminals to connect, share information, and coordinate activity. Most of these platforms have large traffic numbers, but drastically smaller teams than the tech giants like Twitter and Facebook, which make it very hard to adequately police. Sites like Reddit (430 million monthly active users), Discord, (140 million monthly active users), and 4chan (22 million monthly active users) thrive off connected users with common interests. When those interests are illegal activity, it creates an information sharing hotbed where criminals can share vital information for conducting crimes and brag about their past crimes.
From a Washington Post article in 2021, Fran Clader, director of communications for the California Highway Patrol was quoted as saying, “…social media is increasingly playing a role in the organization and promotion of such events. Several recent store robberies in the San Francisco area, including at Burberry, Bloomingdale’s, Yves Saint Laurent, Walgreens, and Fendi, were likely organized on social media apps.” Traditional loss prevention tools are proving to be ineffective in stopping the rise of social media coordinated smash‑and-grab sprees. A single security guard, surveillance cameras, and electronic article surveillance systems do a good job at deterring or catching one or two thieves attempting to steal from a store but do very little against a mob of thirty masked people rushing into a store and leaving with goods in under two minutes.
Along with the rise of social media has also been the rise of sousvelliance. Sousvelliance is the recording of an event or activity by a member of the public rather than a person representing an organization. Like social media, sousvelliance is also a double-edged sword. Through individuals recording police officers making stops and arrests, it has created an additional level of accountability for law enforcement personnel, ensuring citizens’ rights are respected. By sharing these negative interactions, which remain a vast minority of police interactions, it has created a hostile environment which has made it hard for good law enforcement officials to do their job. As an asset protection professional, you have the tough task of having to face potential shoplifters while knowing that at any moment your reactions could be broadcast on social media. It can feel like a burden and often it’s hard not to think about how what you say or do when dealing with these situations is going to end up being portrayed online. To ensure success in this line of work, comprehensive training must be provided emphasizing proper techniques for both interacting with customers as well as handling possible sousvelliance.
Intense Political Climate
Asset protection professionals have been put in a challenging situation with the rise in smash‑and-grab crimes, coupled with a growing acceptance of these otherwise criminal acts. Every week we seem to be served news of the latest looting or theft from stores and trains, but even more fascinating is the public reaction; people along with some politicians increasingly sympathize with the perpetrators and view their actions as an outlet for frustrations that run much deeper than simple larceny. This puts asset protection professionals in a hard spot because we can be villainized for just doing our jobs. Even with the new technology available for retail security, the job of an asset protection professional is not getting easier. It continues to get more complicated and social media is just one force driving the change. It’s hard to know what social media or the internet will be like in twenty years, but we can prepare ourselves by trying to stay up to date as best as we can.