The world of law enforcement has a new beat: the world of social media. Defining social media is tremendously difficult because technology is always moving ahead at lightning speed. The tremendous rise in popularity of social media has occurred in the way people live their lives and the way they receive and handle their communication. The popularity of sites Social-media-crime_0such as Facebook (1.06 billion monthly active users), YouTube (800 million users), Twitter (500 million users), Craigslist (60 million US users each month), and Foursquare (with a community of over 30 million people worldwide) has connected people from all over the world to each other, making it easier to keep in touch with friends, loved ones, or find that special someone.

In addition to personal usage, businesses and the public sector use social media to advertise and recruit new employees, offer better customer service and maintain partnerships. In fact, 65% of adults now use social media. Social networking is the most popular online activity, accounting for 20% of time spent on PCs and 30% of mobile time. As social interactions move more and more online, so does the crime that follows.

So why has crime in social media occurred?

The most popular form of social media is social networking, which consists of websites that allow users to create an online profile in which users post up-to-the-minute personal and professional information about their lives that can include pictures, videos and related content. Social networking is a potential gold mine for criminals who leverage the users’ personal details into financial opportunity.

According to the Sophos Security Threat Report, cyber crime is doubly focused on using social networking sites to identify potential victims, and then move in for the kill. The report strongly recommends that social network sites focus just as much attention on security as they do on acquiring new customers. Hardcore criminal organisations have taken full advantage of making use of the internet and social media by using laptops, smartphones and tablets that are connected wirelessly. They also mastered the use of YouTube by showing where the crimes actually occurred and sometimes displaying for the entire world to see how someone was shot and killed.

Who is getting involved?

Most adults, although kids and sometimes politicians have crossed the line. In the April 15th edition of AM New York, writer Shelia Ann Feeney raises concerns about children on social media, stating that “social media gives children something no other generation has had – the power to say anything to the world, speak with celebrities and stage a prank, before developing the ability to communicate responsibly.” Do kids and teenagers deserve to have a Facebook or twitter account? In my opinion, the decision is a yes or no answer that the parents or guardian of that child should make.

Much of the time kids will make a decision based on peer pressure or to impress their friends. A person who reaches adult age and has a few years living on their own, and paying bills as well as working, should know the difference between and right and wrong. However, people sometimes have a tendency to put their foot their mouth – there are some classic examples of what not to do.

For example, Justine Sacco – the head of corporate communications at IAC – was fired for an offensive tweet she sent while flying to Cape Town. It read: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just Kidding. I’m White!” Another fine example is Alicia Ann Lynch, a Michigan student, who tweeted a photo of herself on her Twitter account as a Boston bombing victim and in return lost her job. But the grand prize of stupidity goes to former congressman Anthony Weiner who was forced to resign from congress for tweeting a picture of his crotch.

These people not only lost any chance for future and meaningful employment, but they also lost the court of public opinion, which is something very difficult to win back.

What can be done to prevent crime in social media from going much further?social_media_crime_safety_large

I propose five suggestions:

First, companies and business should form a partnership with police and make it possible for employees to report suspicious activity or crimes without fear of retaliation.

Second, local officials should develop new ways to get criminals out of your building or neighbourhood. These include enforcing anti-noise laws, housing codes, health and fire codes, anti-nuisance laws, and drug-free clauses in rental leases.

Third, businesses and the public should work with schools to establish drug-free, gun-free zones, and work with recreation officials to do the same for parks. They should mentor young people who need positive support from adults: programmes ranging from Big Brothers and Big Sisters to Adopt-a-School include mentoring as a central ingredient.

Fourth, people need to speak up in support of funding and effective implementation of programmes and other resources that help schools develop an effective set of violence prevention strategies.

Fifth, offer your professional skills in educating students on costs and effects of violence in the community (including their school). Public health personnel, trauma specialists, defence and prosecuting attorneys and judges are among those with important messages to deliver.

If the public, businesses and law enforcement as well as politicians can work together to find common ground and implement some of these strategies, everybody in society can have successful communication and have a little peace of mind.

Theodore Knapinsky