Over the last couple of years, we have seen a revolution in the way that social media is used. No longer just a reflection of social attitudes, it is increasingly defining them.
Nowhere has this phenomenon been more pronounced than in The Arab Spring which began in December 2010 in Tunisia and sparked revolutions in countries across the Middle East which are still on-going today. Social media proved a driving force behind these revolutions and has had a key role to play in stirring entire nations to action.
The riots that broke out in the UK during Summer 2011 also demonstrated the power of social media as a force for mass action even if this time it was to organize looting, arson and criminal damage rather than fight for social and political freedom. Social media was instrumental in coordinating the activities of the rioters with BlackBerry Messenger becoming their most powerful weapon, helping them to target, move and attack ‘en masse’. These events acted as a wake-up call, highlighting the need for the police to start seeing social media as an opportunity to prevent and solve crime rather than simply a tool used by criminals to carry it out.
Addressing the resource draught
But while the urgent need to address this issue and ensure that social media content is continuously monitored and analyzed is understood, resources have been stretched more than ever during these times of stringent public sector cuts. Police invariably lack the resources or the capability to focus on all negative online conversations or all people known to associate with antisocial groups. Within most law enforcement agencies, the number of people using social media is small and the systems they have in place basic.
So, what is the solution? Ultimately, technology has a key role to play here. Analytics technology can help with these processes. Text analytics technologies can now pore over huge amounts of social media information to uncover patterns and analyze content. Social media analytics can continuously monitor online data to identify important topics and content categories and build links to understand certain networks of individuals. Finally sentiment analytics can assess and monitor the sentiment of text to flag changing attitudes that may signal a shift from words to action. Allowing the technology to do the monitoring frees resources to intervene when an increased threat is identified.
Ultimately, in times of financial austerity, the police don’t have the luxury of just increasing their resources to ensure social media is being appropriately monitored for threats. They need to use those resources more smartly and free them up to act on intelligence – not be bogged down by sifting through information. Most importantly they need to use
technology wisely to extract actionable intelligence from mass social media data.