The increasing popularity of social media has lead to significant changes in the ways that law enforcement operates. Social media platforms are used by four out of five law enforcement professionals at every level to help in investigations. It is quickly becoming one of the most effective ways to gather intelligence information as well as a source of evidence for defense and prosecution cases. Research shows that search warrants obtained using social media under probable cause, held up in court 87% of the time when challenged.

Youtube, Facebook and Twitter are being used to find evidence, discredit witnesses and to establish police and jury biases. In 2010, during the trial for the murder of Chandra Levy, a juror was relieved of duty for discussing details of the case on Twitter. In California, a juror who had a blog called “The Misanthrope” was caught blogging about details of a gang related murder case, which lead to a mistrial of the case.

Social media has been particularly useful for criminal investigators. For example, investigators can use sites such as Youtube or Facebook to link associates and establish a connection between potential criminals. Prior to such technology, law enforcement would have to set up detailed surveillance to find information that is now readily available online. In today’s environment, checking social networking sites has become a routine aspect of the investigative process. If police receive the name of a possible suspect in a crime, checking to see if that individual has a social networking account is typically one of the first actions taken. Social networking sites can be used for even the smallest crimes. In 2012, a man in Florida was arrested for stealing a name plate from a Ft. Lauderdale judge when his girlfriend posted a picture of it on Facebook. However, there are also difficulties that law enforcement may face when attempting to use social networking sites to solve crimes.

Many criminals are also using social media on a regular basis to stay in contact with each other. As result, it has become more difficult for law enforcement to track criminals who make a concerted effort to remain anonymous. Information on the internet can be removed within minutes without any way to download or make a copy the information in a physical format. Additionally, it can be difficult for police to obtain records from social networking sites.

While the popularity of social media has helped law enforcement in numerous ways, it has also made them more accountable for their actions. As social activities increasingly move to an online venue, criminals and the enforcement of the law will be increasingly impacted.

Do you know of any situations where social media has played a part in a crime? Either by being the reason someone was convicted or someone was let off. What are your thoughts on the impact social media has over Law Enforcement?