In a day and age when social media threats are commonplace, it is becoming increasingly important for law enforcement agencies to monitor social media for everything from criminals boasting about crimes they have committed to threats outlining crimes they are going commit.
When you take a step back and think about social media threat monitoring as a whole, it’s all about understanding peoples’ interests and intentions while connecting the dots. What they post at any given time provides a limited picture of who they are, and what interests them is even more valuable from an intelligence perspective because many times actions are influenced by outside sources (i.e. ISIS).
One tip for law enforcement agencies monitoring social media channels is to focus initially on a potentially threatening message, but also focus heavily on the poster’s interests: who they follow, what content they comment on or like, if they use the same name/handle on other sites that could provide valuable intelligence, etc. Take that data and think outside of the box (aka social media), which is something most agencies struggle with.
For example, let’s say an individual posts a threatening message on Twitter but their past tweets and profile provide no clues as to who they are or what their intentions are. Then it’s time to break out of social media and run a search in Google to see where else their name might be mentioned. They could have posted threatening comments on blogs using the same name, but you would never know unless you perform a deep dive. Be sure to use quotation marks to pull exact matches.
Taking the scenario one step further, what if Google returns no results and you’re in the dark? Then try running a backlink report on their Twitter profile to see if any other websites link to it. They could have signed up for an anti-police message board (forum) and entered their Twitter name in their profile during the signup process, which would create a backlink to their Twitter profile URL. I can guarantee most criminals aren’t familiar with tools used for search engine optimization (SEO) research, so many mistakes will be made that give law enforcement a competitive edge.
Aside from reactive monitoring efforts that are performed once potential threats come to light, one of the biggest challenges law enforcement faces is sifting through millions of social media posts to proactively identify threatening messages, assess just how credible the threats are, and respond effectively. A vast majority of social media threat assessment is done after being notified of such communications, but not before, which is something that has to change.
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