Has the introduction of Social Media helped to solve more crimes than it has created?

Social media is changing crime drastically. Whilst it’s creating new ones, it’s also helping to solve existing ones. Police recognise the impact social media has and utilize this as much as possible which is evident in their constant Facebook and Twitter updates. This also goes for charities and crime fighting organisations. Personally, I find there is always so much negativity when it comes to talking about social media and the effects it has on crime. People are always focusing on the negative when talking of the two collectively rather than the good. However, is this because the negatives of social media outweigh the positives? I decided to try and find out for myself.

Social Media in Collaboration with Charities

I was highly moved one morning when eating my breakfast watching Good Morning Britain. The particular program I watched aired on 3rd November 2014. It featured an emotive interview with a mother talking about how her son went missing nearly forty years ago. The mother was accompanied by her daughter who talked about the effects of growing up without her missing brother. The video clip below shows the interview.

It’s clear from the video that the main reason they were on the show was to support a new app called Child Rescue Alert. When I heard of the app on the show I thought it was genius and wondered why it had never been done before. An app so simple yet so effective for thousands of missing people and their families. The app combines social media and location services, which allows it to alert you of any missing people within your area. The app is collaborated by CEOP, a command of the national crime agency and the charity Missing People. This means that not only is the app reaching out to thousands of people but it is specifically targeted to people who could be within closer reach of that person. This shows how social media is changing the way in which crimes are reported and presented to the public. Gone are the days of advertising missing people on milk bottles.

The Child Rescue Alert Homepage

The child rescue alert app in collaboration with Missing People got me intrigued about the impact social media has on charities. Social media allows charities to connect with people in all sorts of ways. This doesn’t just mean asking for donations online, it means promoting upcoming events and keeping the public up to date on how their donations are helping.

Crimestoppers, is the only crime fighting charity in the UK allows people to ring up anonymously and pass on anonymous information about crimes. Their social media presence doesn’t just stop at Twitter. They also have a Facebook, YouTube, and Linked In account. This provides them with a vast platform to connect to their audience. Using social media, Crimestoppers launched a 24-hour campaign ‘#CS247 Tweetathon’. This allowed people within the community to get real time crime updates for a whole twenty-four hours. This is something which could clearly never have been done without social media.

I contacted Crimestoppers to hear their view on the impact social media has had on crime and the ways in which they raise awareness. Crimestopper’s Digital Communications Officer, Amy Clarke said:

“As a brief overview, a lot of our campaigns have a social media element to them. This is to raise awareness about particular crimes and to encourage anyone with information to provide this anonymously. We have noticed a spike in calls and online form submissions when we tweet throughout Crimewatch as our contact details are featured on the show. Campaigns generally are set up before social media is applied but it is part of the process. Without social media we wouldn’t be able to promote the campaigns as effectively — mainly because everybody is so active on digital and mobile that this will always be an effective way to promote or raise awareness of any campaign. I think charities in general have seen a large spike and benefit of interaction and awareness raising through the development of social media.
Any campaign that has a direct impact on members of the public, like fraud etc, has a significant draw on social media. One post we made about a PIN hoax had a reach of over 1 million people. The element that is the most striking is that anything community focused or has an impact on the individual, is what generates the most activity on social media.”

It’s clear that the main benefits Amy points out are that the promoting of campaigns wouldn’t be as effective without social media. Charities have seen a benefit of interaction and awareness through social media. Community focused posts and individual impact is what has the most buzz on social media. This shows the huge impact social media has had for one charity alone, and it’s only just the beginning for social media.

To find out more about the progress of Crimestoppers read their impact report here.

How are the police utilising Social Media?

Today the police have as much of a presence on social media as Kim Kardashian’s selfies. Posting updates everyday urging people to look for witnesses, to drink responsibly, drive safely and the list goes on. Social media has provided the police with another voice to reach the public.

Taken from the Lancashire Police Facebook page

The public can connect with police in ways that they have never been able to before. People can freely express their views and opinions on topics that the police post on social media without having to go to their local police station.

Lancashire police have recently launched a new website In the Know which they promoted using their Facebook account. The website allows members of the community to sign up and receive content about the police and other agencies based on your location.

When I tried contacting Lancashire police via telephone and email I couldn’t get a response. Coincidently, when I tried contacting them via Twitter, guess what? I received a response:

Although I wasn’t able to grill them about both the benefits and drawbacks, for me I believe this demonstrates that social media was the fastest most convenient medium for contacting the police when regarding an unrelated crime issue. As its goes for the other platforms, I still haven’t received a response.

So what are the downfalls of Social Media?

Cyber Bullying.

We all know what bullying is and have most probably felt ‘bullied’ or ‘picked on’ at some point in our lives. However, the younger generation of today is experiencing bullying in new ways more than anyone else. Social media enables people from every walk of life to be a victim of cyber bullying. The constant ‘selfies’ and pressures of competing for the ‘hottest’ profile pictures can lead to unnecessary strains on a person, particularly younger people.

Bullying UK, part of family lives, points out the ‘cyber trends’ of bullying such as ‘Hot or Not’. This is a Facebook trend in which teenagers or children ‘like’ a status meaning they are then included in a video and rated on whether they are ‘hot or not’. Although this may seem like a bit of fun it could be seen as a weapon to belittle other peers. The increase in ‘keyboard warriors’ means that more and more people are bullying online without having the courage to do it in person. The effects of bullying on social media are no different to the effects in real life.

Although there are various ways in which social networking websites try to prevent bullying such as reporting a friend, blocking and unfriending this still doesn’t take back the damage that has been done to a person’s self-esteem and confidence.

An interview with Merseyside police officer, PC Devanna, liaison officer for a number of schools in Merseyside told me all about her experience of crime and social media which particularly focused on cyber bullying.

From the interview PC Devanna touched on a number of issues such as the increase in particular crimes due to social media. This included child grooming as social media makes it so easy to get in contact with young people. It’s hard to hear from a sound clip the strain and worry I could feel coming from PC Devanna about the negative impact social media has had on areas which are so serious.

Statistics from the NSPCC clarify PC Devanna’s worries of the increase on online grooming. According the NSPCC 413 calls to ChildLine in 2011/12 mentioned grooming — 60% of these were specifically related to online grooming. Only recently David Cameron has announced that the government are going crack down on online child abuse. New government measures will be put in place to tackle the ‘dark net’. Although this is only the beginning, a change in the law is a big step in fighting the sickening consequences of social media that PC Devanna is concerned by.

There are so many areas to explore when it comes to social media and crime and it is impossible to make a definite conclusion as to whether social media has made more of a good impact than bad. However, from my researchI have found that my opinion of why people are so negative about social media has been justified. The interview with PC Devanna really opened my eyes to the real impact social media has had on particular crimes, which is something I don’t think can be justified by the ease of reporting and contacting the police.

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