When social media sites such as MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter came into being, hoards of people started making connections with people they never expected to meet. Many have also found a way to use social media in very interesting ways — from the hilarious flash dancing mobs to the protestors in Tahrir Square. Unfortunately, social media is not inherently benign and many have found a way to use these tools for nefarious activities, from coordinated mass robberies to destructive riots to hate groups.
There are a few ways that crime can be coordinated through social media. The first is that criminals are also people, and they also have Facebook profiles and have the ability to create groups. If you have a group, you also can control who sees the group, if it is ‘invite-only’ or public, and the administrators can kick people out of the forum. This perhaps offers a forum for criminals to discuss plans of attack under the radar so to speak.
Criminals Use Others Social Media Information
Criminals can be more aware of homeowners leaving their places of residence than ever. Most people don’t even think about the fact that when they talk about how they are going on their month-long trip to Hawaii, they are alerting everyone on their friends list, but they are also possibly telling the public, depending on their privacy settings, that their home will be empty. There have been many reported incidents of criminals using Facebook especially to check when people are not going to be home as a timeline for planning a robbery. This type of over-sharing really puts people at risk for home robbery.
It Helps in Coordinated Crimes
More than private robberies, there has also been a string of “flash mob” violence that was organised via Facebook. Dancing flash mobs are meant to bring joy to the hearts of the participants and the unsuspecting viewers, but recently in places such as Philadelphia, London, and Cleveland, mass fights, riots, shootings, and looting operations have been planned using social media tools.
These attacks by “flash mobsters” are usually rapid because of the pre-planning. They have the ability to discuss the plans in real-time with smartphones, mobile devices with GPS, and other cellular technology. Organised crime is obviously not a new phenomenon, but the addition of social media has made keeping up with the crime more difficult for authorities.
This is Nothing New
The latest tools and technology have long been used by criminals for personal gains — gunpowder to computers. While the trend won’t change, law enforcement agencies have been hard pressed to combat the latest tools. The magnitude of data that is created each day using in this Web 2.0 world is astonishing and the tools and other resources available to law enforcement agencies are hard pressed to keep up. There is also the legal debate regarding privacy and censorship.
Steps You Can Take
Turn off your geo-locating capacities on your phones and your Facebook posts. Request not to be tagged at a certain restaurant, state, or other location far from home unless you know your home is protected. Monitor your children’s Facebook activities to make sure they are not partaking in or unknowingly supporting any organised crime. When you are out in public, always be vigilant about your surroundings. Limit your Facebook friends list to those who you completely trust if you don’t want to monitor what you write on your updates. These steps can help keep you safe in spite of any previously organised criminal attacks.