The Effects of Social Media on Undercover Policing
Social networking sites make it very difficult, if not impossible, to have undercover police officers:
“The results found that 90 per cent of female officers were using social media compared with 81 per cent of males.”
The most popular site was Facebook, followed by Twitter. Forty seven per cent of those surveyed used social networking sites daily while another 24 per cent used them weekly. All respondents aged 26 years or younger had uploaded photos of themselves onto the internet.
“The thinking we had with this result means that the 16-year-olds of today who might become officers in the future have already been exposed.
“It’s too late [for them to take it down] because once it’s uploaded, it’s there forever.”
There’s another side to this issue as well. Social networking sites can help undercover officers with their backstory, by building a fictional history. Some of this might require help from the company that owns the social networking site, but that seems like a reasonable request by the police.
I am in the middle of reading Diego Gambetta’s book Codes of the Underworld: How Criminals Communicate. He talks about the lengthy vetting process organized crime uses to vet new members — often relying on people who knew the person since birth, or people who served time with him in jail — to protect against police informants. I agree that social networking sites can make undercover work even harder, but it’s gotten pretty hard even without that.