The Toronto Police Service (TPS) launched their social media strategy on July 27, with some users less enthusiastic than others.
TPS Deputy Chief Peter Sloly led the strategy to implement Facebook and Twitter as a part of the service’s community outreach.
“A single cop sitting in his office, by regular use of his Twitter and Facebook account, can now reach out to thousands of people in the GTA and across the province,” Sloly said in a TPS news release.
But some Facebook power-users, especially teenagers, are concerned that a police presence on Facebook could lead to a loss of privacy and wonder whether police are trying to keep tabs on people’s personal activities.
Although 15-year-old David Chen has never posted anything illegal, violent, or dangerous on Facebook, “some friends do have pictures of underage drinking and smoking,” he said. He and a group of friends were suspicious when they heard TPS was boosting its presence on Facebook.
Billy Fang, 16, said he was worried about loss of privacy. He noted that many teenagers post inappropriate or illegal content to gain attention and popularity.
Friend Angel Li, 15, agreed.
“It’s what a lot of teenagers talk about these days. The gossip, parties, drinking,” said Li.
She said she hadn’t seen violent taunts or threats on Facebook, something that could be construed as a crime, except in jest.
“There are people that joke around about ‘scrapping people’ and fighting each other. It’s rarely serious,” she said.
At least with this group of Toronto teens, the idea of police on Facebook was not warmly received.
Outreach Versus Investigation
However, the police say they are using Facebook for outreach rather than investigation. Social media can offer law enforcement a way to engage their community and converse more effectively with the citizens they serve. Unfortunately, some of those they hope to reach are wary of other aspects of having police online.
A controversial incident of law enforcement “creeping” on the social network grabbed headlines earlier this year when RCMP officers kicked out University of Western Ontario student Awish Aslam from a Conservative rally on April 3.
Aslam had a display picture on Facebook with Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff that the RCMP found through viewing her Facebook page.
While TPS is talking about outreach, some law enforcement agencies have had success using Facebook to fight crime. A U.S. fugitive known as Victor Burgos decided to taunt police through Facebook on Monday, July 25.
The 29-year-old posted “Catch me if you can, I’m in Brooklyn.” Burgos’s whereabouts were uncovered shortly afterwards by U.S. marshals. They entered his home while he was sitting at his computer.
Check Privacy Settings
Other criminals are using Facebook to more problematic ends. Online security firms advise people to be careful about the information they post on the social network to protect themselves from identity theft or physical robberies.
Facebook users should check their privacy settings and know what information they’re sharing and with whom.
Criminals have been known to befriend people on the network or follow people with open privacy settings so they can know when someone will go on holiday and leave their house unprotected.
A more frightening example took place in Belgium, where an incident of identity faking through Facebook was part of an elaborate plot to rob the Carrefour supermarket.
In February, an account listed as belonging to “Katrien Van Loo” made friends with a Belgium supermarket manager and invited him for dinner a week later. When he arrived at the given location, it turned out to be a vacant building. “Katrien Van Loo” turned out to be two unrecognized men who gagged, blindfolded, and snatched his keys.
Toronto teens, however, are concerned about something along the lines of what happened in Tillsonburg, a small town located two hours southwest of Toronto.
In June 2007, a wild bash was uncovered by Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) through Facebook. Tipped off by a resident, OPP began checking out a group on Facebook titled “Wabash Party.” All the party information, including information about the time, location, and 716 attendees, was displayed.
An officer used his private account at home to investigate because there was no access to Facebook at his detachment. OPP gave out a warning to attendees that officers would be surveying the area for any underage drinking and illegal substance abuse.
Toronto Crime Stoppers, Toronto Police
TPS now has two pages on Facebook: Toronto Crime Stoppers and Toronto Police. Many police officers now have accounts and a profile on Facebook, after being trained thoroughly on the program on July 27. An anonymous tip can be left on one of their pages.
Facebook is the second most visited website in the world, after Google, and clocks 750 million active users logging over 700 billion minutes monthly—an average of 15.5 hours per person. Some 20 million applications are installed by users every day, and it all began in a Harvard dorm room in February 2004.