Monitoring social media
BlueJay, a tool by social media monitoring company BrightPlanet, shows the locations of tweeters who have left their geotagging option activated. BlueJay screenshot hide captiontoggle caption BlueJay screenshot
BlueJay, a tool by social media monitoring company BrightPlanet, shows the locations of tweeters who have left their geotagging option activated.BlueJay screenshot
Social media monitoring started in the world of marketing, allowing companies to track what people were saying about their brands. But now, with software that allows users to scan huge volumes of public postings on social media, police are starting to embrace it as well.
Companies can use the product to keep tabs on what employees say on social media or watch what others are saying. British police use it to stay in touch with the public in their jurisdictions — and as a means to detect trouble.
"By looking at keywords, it can track conversations, " Leavesley says. "Vulnerable people" — who might be suicidal or abused, for example — "have been identified and reached out to."
In the U.S., a company called BrightPlanet sells a product that is more explicitly marketed as an investigative tool.
"If you had 1, 500 gang members, like we do in Detroit — we have their handles, so we're able to identify what the gang members are doing, " says BrightPlanet Vice President Tyson Johnson.
“ If persons are talking about certain criminal activity, it alerts us to it.
- Vernon Keenan, Georgia Bureau of Investigation
The tool, called BlueJay, is capable of scanning the entire "fire hose" of tweets, he says — far more than is available to search from the Twitter Web page. It can be configured to focus on tweets coming from certain places, and it can collect instant photographic evidence from a disturbance.
"If we'd been able to monitor real-time during the Boston Marathon, they'd have an immediate repository to interrogate, as soon as the bombs happened, " Johnson says.
Location information depends on people leaving their geotagging option on, and only a small subset of Twitter users do. But when they do, BlueJay can track their movements over time on its map. For police, it's a potential gold mine of information.
"It's like a stakeout, " says Vernon Keenan, director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. "If persons are talking about certain criminal activity, it alerts us to it."
But some police hesitate to use these tools. Keenan says he understands that this is all public information — people tweet this information voluntarily — but he says that there are many public things the police should not monitor. He gives the example of a political rally.
"For law enforcement to be there and to take photographs of all the participants — monitoring — is not against the law, but it's not acceptable, " Keenan says.
So even on the public Internet, Keenan requires his agents to get permission from a supervisor before they scan social media. They have to explain what they're monitoring and why.
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