Using social media to strengthen public security
An EU-funded project is improving understanding of the opportunities, challenges and legal and ethical considerations arising from the use of social media in policing. The project aims to provide a roadmap, including recommendations, to help policymakers better target ways to fight crime and improve public safety.
Social media provides many benefits, such as opportunities for problem solving, fighting crime and fear of crime, and improving our quality of life. However, its negative aspects can feed into digitised criminality and terrorism. Some of its worst features include trolling, cyberbullying, issuing threats, the dark web, and live video-sharing of security operations.
The use of social media in policing is developing fast, and the technological, social and policy environments within which public safety is delivered are changing rapidly.
To help policymakers understand these changes and improve public security, the EU-funded MEDI@4SEC project is engaging with a wide range of social media and public security stakeholders to share knowledge and gain insights. These include police and public security planners.
The project has also reviewed various commentary and analysis sources regarding challenges and opportunities presented by social media in relation to the planning and implementation of security measures.
From this research, MEDI@4SEC has produced a series of reports and tools to improve current understanding of how social media can and cannot be used for security purposes and to support the ongoing dialogue around the issue.
Our work has enabled us to better understand the different ways in which social media is being used by police and other public security planners, and by compiling an inventory of best practices, lessons learned and roles and responsibilities, we have developed an interactive guide to the ways in which social media is used, explains project coordinator Jon Coaffee of the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom. We call this the Pattern Language of Social Media Use, which is being used as a prompt for discussion amongst stakeholders and a basis for further understanding.
A key element in MEDI@4SECs knowledge-sharing process is the organisation of six workshops, each based on a different theme: DIY policing citizens using social media to do things that normally fall within the scope of police work; everyday security; riots and mass gatherings; the dark web; trolling; and innovative market solutions that could be used by public authorities.
Interaction at workshops should help make working practices more efficient. Furthermore, outputs, which include best practice reports, a catalogue of social media technologies, recommendations for EU standards, training options and ethical awareness-raising methods, will provide an evidence base and roadmap to support policy- and decision-making.
However, as Coaffee stresses, the main benefits of the project are primarily social. MEDI@4SEC brings together key stakeholders for face-to-face discussions and exchange of experience and practice. In so doing, it is enhancing existing professional networks and developing a bespoke community where these discussions can be furthered, he says. A critical piece of feedback at workshops has been the value delegates place on the opportunity to engage with stakeholders from outside their normal networks. Such opportunities will facilitate further information exchange over time.