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Sebastian Denef (Fraunhofer IAO),
Arnout de Vries (TNO), Hans van Vliet
(TNO), Mariano Cecowski (XLAB),
Jordi Diego (Local Police Valencia), Rubén
Fernández (Local Police Valencia), Kat
Hadjimatheou (University of Warwick),
Jon Coaffee (University of Warwick),
Emmanouil Kermitsis (KEMEA), Nikos
Moustakidis (KEMEA), Klaudia Tani (EOS),
Pilar de la Torre (EFUS), Fiona Williamson
(Police Service of Northern Ireland)
This report summarizes practices of so-
cial media use in public security. Our goal
is to create an inventory of best practic-
es, lessons-learned, and roles and re-
sponsibilities, to analyse specifically how
social media is being used by police and
other public security planners, within and
outside Europe. By providing an overall
description, we aim to spark discussions
and provide a common language for so-
cial media use in the field of public secu-
Using data from academic literature
review, the review of blogs, books, ex-
isting best practice descriptions and
expert knowledge this report compares
social media practices. Inspired by Chris-
topher Alexander’s work on ‘pattern lan-
guages’ for urban spaces and buildings,
we analysed the data and looked for pat-
terns. To further refine our findings, we
presented the practice patterns to social
media and security experts and inter-
viewed them about their perspective and
As a result, we identified 74 practice
patterns that describe and structure
the use of social media for public se-
curity. The patterns are structured in
three groups, describing how (1) law en-
forcement agencies (LEAs), such as the
police, (2) citizens and (3) criminals are
using social media and impact public se-
curity. With 50 patterns, the focus of our
work is on group (1), the LEAs.
Each pattern has a unique name (writ-
ten in capital letters) and describes a
solution to a recurring problem or con-
text. Following an image and a very con-
cise summary of the pattern, this report
provides links to online resources that
detail the given practices. The patterns
have been designed to be printed and
shared as an input for workshops and
strategic discussions of practitioners
and public security planners.
Patterns link to other patterns and
thereby form groups. The main groups
for LEAs are the use of social media for
INTELLIGENCE, ENFORCING THE
LAW, CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIONS
and ENGAGEMENT &
COMMUNICATION. Additionally, we
describe a range of SOCIAL MEDIA
FOUNDATION practices that allow or-
ganisations to prepare themselves and
maintain the use of social media.
Reflecting on this work, we show that
typically LEAs start their social media ef-
forts by implementing the INFORMING
CITIZENS pattern, which has become
a quasi standard. LEAs widely acknowl-
edge the benefits of using social media
for ENFORCING THE LAW, especial-
ly in crisis situations. With regards to
SOCIAL MEDIA MONITORING and
CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIONS the
scope and technological depths of ad-
aptation vary. While already common
practice in selected countries, such as
the Netherlands and the United King-
dom, a more interactive COMMUNITY
ENGAGEMENT typically points to
more experience in using social media,
as it requires organisational change that
empowers local officers to publicly post
and interact digitally with citizens.
Other practices such as ONLINE
PATROL are still in their infancy and
require LEAs to establish a visible pres-
ence in online spaces.
While selected patterns are widely
used and feature many examples, oth-
er practices have only been applied in
selected contexts and are at the exper-
imental stage. We thus do not consider
this work a static theory. Instead, we
understand our report as a snapshot of
current practices that should and will
Discussing our results with practition-
ers showed that our descriptions cover
their current practices. It also revealed
the need for future research to provide
more insights into how organisations can
innovate and cope with the increasing
speed of technological innovation be-
yond social media..
This practice report is a compilation
showing the great potential of social me-
dia for public security. It does not take
into account the current stage of social
adaptation. Indeed, our work indicates
that adoption greatly varies and most
LEAs have yet to define their role and re-
sponsibilities in digitised societies.
We invite all practioners and research-
ers to contribute to this work by submit-
ting their own examples or comments.
The MEDI@4SEC project focuses on un-
derstanding the opportunities, challeng-
es and ethical considerations of enhanc-
ing social media use for public security:
the good, the bad and the ugly. The good
comprises using social media for prob-
lem solving, fighting crime, decreasing
fear of crime and increasing the quality
of life. The bad is the increase of digit-
ised criminality and terrorism with new
phenomena emerging through the use
of social media. The ugly comprises the
grey areas of phenomena to deal with
during incidents, such as trolling, cyber
bullying, threats, or live video sharing of
tactical security operations.
Making use of the possibilities that
social media offer, including smart
‘workarounds’ is key, while respecting
privacy, legislation, and ethics. This
changing situation raises a series of
challenges and possibilities for public
MEDI@4SEC explores this through a
series of communication and dissemi-
nation activities that engage extensive-
ly with a range of end-users to better
understand the usage of social media
for security activities. MEDI@4SEC will
seek a better understanding of how so-
cial media can and cannot be used for
public security purposes and highlight
ethical, legal and data-protection-related
issues and implications. Activities centre
around six relevant themes: DIY Policing;
Everyday security; Riots and mass gath-
erings: The dark web; Trolling; and Inno-
vative market solutions. MEDI@4SEC will
feed into, support and influence changes
in policy-making and policy implementa-
tion in public security that can be used
by end-users to improve their decision
In this project, social media are de-
fined as “a group of internet-based appli-
cations that build on the ideological and
technological foundations of Web 2.0,
and that allow the creation and exchange
of User Generated Content” (Kaplan &
Haenlein 2010: 61). Social media that
we predominantly focus on are the more
widely used social media apps, notably
Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, YouTube,
and Instagram, but also (new) emerging
social media that are widely adopted
and that we come across. Online chat
groups, forums and market places are
not our key focus, but will be touched
upon where relevant.
The ambition of the MEDI@4SEC is to
establish a community around the topic
of social media in public security and
provide a better understanding to public
security planners. That is why the project
will organise a workshop series in which
stakeholders can discuss and exchange
knowledge in the field.
Further, we have witnessed that in this
relatively new and still experimental field,
practitioners can benefit greatly from
international knowledge exchange and
learnings from the experiences of oth-
ers. Such exchange can help to compare
practices and empower early adopters
with references and examples.
In the long run, this exchange can help
to harmonize security practices, espe-
cially among European law enforcement
The core motivation for this report,
hence, is to spark and enable discus-
sions among the various stakeholders
in the field of social media and public
Driven by this motivation, this report
aims to provide an overview that shows
a comprehensive map of social media
practice in the field of public security.
Our focus is on making social media
practice easily accessible and deliver
pointers to other sources for additional
We have conducted an extensive litera-
ture review of 382 publications. The re-
view provides an extensive overview of
research and other publications in the
field of public security and social media.
The literature review focuses on the fol-
lowing six themes:
DIY policing: citizens employing social
media for criminal investigation, crime
prevention or ensuring public security
independent of police. Citizens taking ini-
tiative/taking over police tasks.
Riots and mass gatherings: the role
of social media (data) during riots and
mass gatherings and ensuring public se-
curity by monitoring, signalling and com-
municating with the public.
Everyday security: the everyday po-
licing of public security, including co-
operation with citizens via social media
‘community policing’ and social media/
big data intelligence.
The Dark Web: organised (internation-
al) crime and its high-tech use of the dark
web, the influence on public security, and
the counter policing activities.
Trolling: all kinds of online bullying
(cyber bullying), of which some activities
are criminal offences and some are not.
Innovative market solutions: new com-
mercial products for including social me-
dia in police work. For example apps for
smartphones, social media monitoring
For the purpose of the deliverable at
hand, we have scanned the literature
review for best practices and lessons
learned and included these examples in
the description of practices.
Our selection and description of best
practices is grounded in a variety of dif-
ferent data sources.
First, as mentioned above, this re-
port is based on an extensive litera-
ture review of 382 publications. These
publications include academic studies
on social media topics and also other,
non-academic publications on the topic.
As part of the existing literature review
we also reviewed existing best practice
reports, such as the report of the FP7
COMPOSITE project on best practices in
police social media adoption. We also re-
viewed blogs, such as the Dutch website
socialmediadna.nl that has a long history of
reporting on the topic.
Second, we leveraged the existing ex-
pertise in the MEDI@4SEC project con-
sortium. As the project partners were
among the first to study social media for
public security, we had several discus-
sions and reviewed the knowledge and
experience available in the project. Of
great importance here was the expertise
at the teams at Fraunhofer IAO and TNO,
who conducted various studies in the
field of police social media use.
Third, to include the perspective of
municipalities, we reviewed strategic
security plans of cities for practice and
social media adoption. The strategies
were collected through a call launched
by the European Forum for Urban Securi-
ty (EFUS) among its members. 23 strate-
gies from different European cities were
collected and reviewed, including cities
in France, Italy, the Netherlands, the UK
Fourth, we presented our findings to
30 external experts and discussed the
practice descriptions with them. The ex-
perts included police officers, research-
ers and city officials from Belgium, Ger-
many, Greece, Ireland, the Netherlands,
Slovenia, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland,
the United Kingdom and the U.S. The ex-
perts provided additional examples and
pointed to missing aspects currently rel-
evant in their work.
Fifth, we organised a workshop
through the network of our project part-
ner, EFUS. At the workshop, we present-
ed the results of the report and discussed
its application in the work contexts of the
cities of the workshop participants.
METHODS & STRUCTURE
Methodologically, this work is inspired by
the pattern language concept of Christo-
pher Alexander and the grounded theory
method, proposed by Glaser and Strauss
For presenting and making sense of
the data, we apply the concept of a pat-
tern language developed by Christopher
Alexander. Christopher Alexander (1964,
1979, 1999, 2002a, 2002b, 2009), as
an architect and researcher, has studied
the interaction between human activity
and designed artefacts and spaces. To
understand existing configurations, Alex-
ander proposes the concept of pattern
languages. He argued that “every place
is given its character by certain pat-
terns of events that keep on happening
there” (1979, p. 55) and that these “pat-
terns of events are always interlocked
with certain geometric patterns in the
space” (1979, p. 75). Each pattern “is
a rule which describes a type of strong
centre that is likely to be needed, on a
recurring basis, throughout a particular
environment” (2002b, p. 345). A pattern
language is a collection of patterns that
describes an overall configuration.
In the field of computer science, Alex-
ander’s work has been influential in shar-
ing knowledge in software engineering
(Gamma, et al, 1995). Erickson (2000a,
2000b) suggests pattern languages as
a ‘Lingua Franca’ in design processes
for computing systems, addressing the
need to design systems in interdiscipli-
nary teams that integrate well in existing
workplaces. These patterns and their re-
lationships “can be used as a language
for discussing changes and reflecting on
their possible impacts, both in terms of
the activities of the organisation, and in
terms of the qualities of work life which
its members value.” (Erickson, 2000a, p.
As detailed in Denef, Oppermann,
Keyson (2011), Alexander’s creation of a
pattern language can be framed as an
instance of research, where an initial in-
terest, in this case the quality of life in
designed spaces, leads to a theory in a
bottom-up process. From this perspec-
tive, we can link Alexander’s work to
the methodological considerations by
Glaser and Strauss work on grounded
theory (1967). In grounded theory, the
lens of research is not defined a priori;
instead, it evolves in the course of the
study, grounded in and targeted for the
phenomenon at hand.
Inspired by the concepts of grounded
theory, our pattern language of social
media practice in public security evolved
in a grounded process and by a process
of constant comparison of practical ex-
amples found in our data.
As a result, we present our findings in
a pattern language. In a concise form,
each pattern describes a problem or
context, the solution and is visualized
using an image. These descriptions are
short in order to enable the reader to
quickly grasp a general idea, before ex-
ploring its details. The patterns are de-
signed in a way that they can be directly
printed from this report. Each pattern is
detailed with examples that link to spe-
cific cases or other online resources that
provide more information.
Patterns can also link to other pat-
terns and thus describe groups and re-
lations. We visualise these relations in
the overall pattern language graph. It is
important to notice that the hierarchy
only visualises the main connections and
dependencies. To improve clarity, we do
not visualize all links that are mentioned
in the text.
Given the ambitious scope of the report,
it has a number of limitations. Providing
a worldwide mapping of social media
practice in the field of public security
is, by definition, an impossible task. Not
only do we see the many law enforce-
ment agencies around the world apply
various practices, moreover, they evolve
rapidly. That is why this report cannot
list or group all practices and is certainly
incomplete. While we have insights into
many of the examples and practices
that we describe, we also cannot always
guarantee the quality of their implemen-
tation and whether or not a particular im-
plementation or example has delivered
the results that it promised.
We also have not developed a stand-
ard or system that would allow us to
specify the criteria that qualifies a prac-
tice to be listed. In this report, we rely on
the judgment of experts and practition-
ers in the field.
We have used the data that we gath-
ered to create a structure that supports
the presentation and communication
about the subject matter. The grouping
and the structure of the described prac-
tice, however, do not follow a strict sys-
tem and there are probably a number of
others ways to structure and group our
We further would like to point out that
we have not analysed the ethical or legal
implications of each individual practice.
Given these limitations, we do not
consider this report as an end, but rath-
er as a beginning and means to spark
discussions in the field of social media
and public security. We encourage prac-
titioners and researchers alike to ques-
tion our findings and contribute to our
understanding of this diverse and highly
THEFT & FRAUD
Image Source: PSNI
Social media have changed many aspects
of public and private lives and directly im-
pact public security.
Therefore, LEAs adopt social media and un-
derstand their relevance for their work. We
consider the adoption of social media by
public security organisations in themselves
a best practice.
The use of social media such as Twitter, Facebook or YouTube is
allowing the interaction between the citizens and the police as
we detail in ENGAGEMENT & COMMUNICATION.
Social media also provide a data source for investigations, as
we detail in CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIONS.
Social media can also support ENFORCING THE LAW and
INTELLIGENCE activities of LEAs.
In our interviews and in previous work, we did not find a single
LEA that chose to adopt social media and later considered that
a bad decision. Instead, we find that organisations that initially
only used social media for a particular event or only for a special
purpose, later kept using it and adopted in broader ways than
originally planned. The police in Frankfurt, Germany, for exam-
ple, only used Facebook temporarily, but now runs a permanent
Facebook presence at:
A reason for LEAs for non-adoption of social media in inves-
tigations is the restriction that do not allow to access social
media from the workplace. According to Lexisnexis, access is
the single biggest driver for non-use in investigations, a factor
that has been increased from 2012 onwards:
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) introduced so-
cial media around 2011 in a bid to engage more meaningfully
with the community they serve. PSNI ran a pilot scheme with
Facebook pages in a number of areas before rolling out Face-
book and Twitter to all districts in Northern Ireland. There are
currently 32 PSNI Facebook accounts and 35 PSNI Twitter ac-
counts. As PSNI’s social media use has developed they have
also introduced a corporate Instagram account and a corporate
YouTube account. Engagement over the social media channels
has grown steadily and PSNI currently have a social media fol-
lowing of 612,805 people in a population of 1.8 million.
Image Source: CC license by https://www.flickr.com/photos/ajc1/6357759479
Social media contain a large amount of data
that might be relevant to public security.
Therefore, LEAs use social media to gather
Intelligence related practices: SOCIAL MEDIA ANALYTICS.
Sometimes, UNDERCOVER OPERATIONS can be a part of
Image Source: CC license by https://www.flickr.com/photos/makou0629/1145908929
High volumes of unstructured data and traf-
fic are generated from various social me-
dia before, during, and after an event or an
emergency incident period.
Therefore, LEAs use software tools for
data analytics for unstructured data with
machine learning that allows to search and
analyse text, images, audio, and video from
virtually any source uncovering trends, pat-
terns, and relationships.
UK’s Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) began a trial with HP
during the summer of the London Olympics to deploy industry
leading social media analytics tools (IDOL-Intelligent Data Op-
erating Layer) to manage high volume of data traffic produced
during the Olympic Games event period.
HP proposed this trial to help better understanding and uti-
lizing social media analysis (SMA) for community engagement.
The BRIDGE EU project conducted research on an information
intelligence tool which aggregates, simulates, collects and anal-
yses social media live data coming from the fields of emergency
According to a techcrunch report, police are increasingly us-
ing social media surveillance tools:
■■ Analyst Notebook:
Geotime and RiskMap are also used for analytics.
Tools can also use other data, not only social media sources.
Image Source: CC license by https://www.flickr.com/photos/perspective/7643017690
Social media can support law enforcement
Therefore, LEAs use social media to dis-
cover people who violate the law or seem
to intend to do so.
The practice is detailed in the following descriptions:
■■ SOCIAL MEDIA MONITORING
■■ FILTER LOCAL SOURCES
■■ INCIDENT MONITORING
■■ CIVIL SERVANTS MONITORING
■■ CROWD MANAGEMENT
■■ LISTING MISSING PEOPLE OR CASUALTIES
■■ SEEK CONNECT HELP
Image Source: CC license by http://www.flickr.com/photos/quinnanya
People are accustomed to use social me-
dia to communicate with each other and
to contact and interact with organisations.
Also they use it for reporting crime, crime
tips or other relevant information.
Therefore, LEAs use social media channels
such as apps or Twitter (DMs) to have peo-
ple submit information about incidents or
Intake is most often done through websites, sometimes on a
national level in the Netherlands.
Individual UK forces, e.g. the Metropolitan Police, also use
online crime reporting.
While not trusted by all forces, communication apps, e.g.
WhatsApp, have been used for such purpose in the Netherlands,
The forces also issue specific emergency apps: e.g. Alert-
Cops (ES), Fress 112 (ES), Reporty (Isr) and other Police apps,
such as the national Dutch police app.
Use of WhatsApp for (non)emergency calls/reports in the
… and in India:
Ushahidi, which translates to “testimony” in Swahili, was de-
veloped to map reports of violence in Kenya after the post-elec-
tion violence in 2008.
Dutch cities provide an application called Buiten Beter where
residents report complaints to the municipality. Notifiers receive
a message on how the complaint is dealt with.
Image Source: CC license by https://www.flickr.com/photos/deltamike/567062831
In crisis situations the whereabouts of peo-
ple can be unknown.
Therefore, LEAs use social media to list
missing people or account for people.
Social media websites offer people to post their whereabouts
and look for people:
■■ Facebook Safety Check
■■ Google Person Finder
■■ The Netherlands Red Cross runs the site: ‘Ik ben veilig’
(I am safe)
Image Source: CC license by https://www.flickr.com/photos/loozrboy/7311771718
Social media provide a sense of what is go-
ing on for public security planners (before,
during, or after incidents for example).
Therefore, LEAs monitor social media on
various security topics.
LEAs monitor social media for threats, incidents, rumours and
other critical information.
Monitoring is done at local, regional, national and international
levels to improve situational awareness. See report:
Monitoring is done as an early warning mechanism, during
incidents and for monitoring the effects of LEA actions.
LEAs use (clusters of) keywords and/or geographic searches
on open social media sources to understand what is happening
and monitor them, as well as location- or event based threats.
During events, LEAs use tools to analyse mood and senti-
ments. The Police Service of Northern Ireland regularly moni-
tors social media for large scale events. The PSNI use Hootsuite
Insights, Facebook and Twitter.
In the Netherlands, there is the Social Media Firework monitor:
LEAs also monitor social media memes that might become
a threat on an ad hoc basis, such as Project X, FireChallenge,
LEAs also monitor social media for death threats:
A special type of monitoring is INCIDENT MONITORING
This practice is can be performed using real-time social me-
dia monitoring and real-time contents.
■■ In the Netherlands, there is a Live Social Media Safety Mon-
■■ Live streaming video services, such as Periscope, also al-
low for monitoring:
The UK started an initiative to monitor social media for hate
Monitoring is related to the following patterns:
■■ FILTER LOCAL SOURCES
■■ CIVIL SERVANTS MONITORING
Image Source: CC license by https://www.flickr.com/photos/darkroomproductions/5410984464
In crisis situations, social media is used by
local and remote people. In order to create
situational awareness it is important to dis-
tinguish between local and remote sources.
Therefore, LEAs identify people posting
from the ground or use algorithms that can
identify this behaviour.
A low-tech solution is to identify and list people who are known
to post from the ground. Algorithms can help to identify and
distinguish local sources from the overall social media conver-
sation around a topic. Source: Learning from the Crowd: Col-
laborative Filtering Techniques for Identifying On-the-Ground
Twitterers during Mass Disruptions. Kate Starbird, Grace Muzny,
Image Source: CC license by: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kecko/13984307012
LEAs need to know the developments of an
Therefore, LEAs use social media to moni-
tor ongoing incidents or events.
LEAs are also creating hashtags for incidents as a way of chan-
Commercial offerings support incident monitoring
LEAs can create ‘dropboxes’ for incidents, such as LEEDIR or
micromapping software, such as Ushahidi:
The Belgian Province of Walloon Brabant has sealed a partner-
ship with VISOV, a French-speaking Virtual Operations Support
Team #VOST, to provide them with support during a crisis in
terms of: sorting and detection of relevant images, analysis of
the general public’s crisis perception and behaviour, spatialisa-
tion via geo-targeting and diffusion of official messages.
Image Source: CC license by https://www.flickr.com/photos/thomashawk/61076493
Civil servants can use social media in ways
that are illegal or do not follow policies.
Therefore, LEAs monitor the social media
activities of their own people.
Police forces that run TARGETED ACCOUNTS are following
and monitoring these accounts to check whether the content
follows their policies and regulations.
Websites such as Facebook Fired list people who got fired
because of their social media postings (not only civil servants
and not limited to professional accounts).
Image Source: CC licence by https://www.flickr.com/photos/amy_elizabeth_west/3876549126
Large events require organisers to manage
Therefore, LEAs use social media to man-
Twitter is most often the medium of choice to manage crowds.
For many years, the Rotterdam police has been using social
media during the Rotterdam Summer Carnival.
Another Dutch event is Glazen Huis, where LEAs have been
using social media for crowd control.
Also city officials in Amsterdam use social media for crowd
Dutch TNO organisation reports on using social media to di-
There are also apps that measure crowd density based on
social media and app usage.
There are apps supporting the kettling tactic.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland issue regular infor-
mation, traffic advice and “get home safe” advice in relation to
large events across their social media platforms. PSNI also is-
sue relevant traffic advice while events are ongoing.
Image Source: www.pexels.com
In crisis situations there are people seeking
resources and those who want to provide
Therefore, LEAs use social media as a plat-
form that connect seekers with people and
organisations who can help with temporary
housing, medical resources, etc.
During the Haiti Earthquake 2010, Twitter became a tool for
■■ In: Learning from on-the-ground medical twitterers during
the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Aleksandra Sarcevic, Leysia
Palen, Joanne White, Kate Starbird, Mossaab Bagdouri and
During the 2016 Munich shooting, public transport was
stopped and people from outside the city could not leave and
needed a place to stay. Through Twitter, people offered their
homes for temporary stays.
There is a danger that such system can be abused by third
parties who have other interests (terrorist seeking a place to
Image Source: CC license by https://www.flickr.com/photos/franziska/253254397
Social media adaptation requires a solid or-
Therefore, LEAs prepare themselves by in-
troducing social media strategy, infrastruc-
ture, organisation, and education.
Social media adaptation requires a set of practices and infra-
structure that prepare the organisation and create an infrastruc-
ture on which social media adaptation thrives.
The following practice patterns provide details on this:
■■ SOCIAL MEDIA EDUCATION
■■ MAIN ACCOUNT
■■ SOCIAL MEDIA STRATEGY
■■ SOCIAL MEDIA POLICIES
■■ MODERN IT INFRASTRUCTURE
■■ MOBILE DEVICES
■■ LOAD BALANCE
■■ SOCIAL INTRANET
Image Source: www.pexels.com/photo/rear-view-of-man-working-in-office-256401/
Using social media requires new knowl-
edge and skills.
Therefore, LEAs run trainings and have sim-
ulated environments to make officers famil-
iar with how to make best use of it.
One way of training is the simulation of postings on social media
by creating messages and contents that a LEA would post, e.g.
for a TWEETATHON. This allows reviewing the created mes-
sages in terms of content and style. Zurich police prepared their
TWEETATHON in the same manner.
Aside from internal training, there are Blab video conferences
(search blab & police on Twitter):
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) runs social
media awareness and Hootsuite training for every social media
user. Social media users only receive access to Hootsuite after
the training is completed. At the time of writing, the PSNI Digital
Hub were working with District Trainers to design and implement
a refresher training package for established social media users.
The Digital Hub also anticipate creating practice FB and Twitter
pages for social media users to practice in during training ses-
Image Source: https://www.pexels.com/photo/lg-smartphone-instagram-social-media-35177/
When using social media, the questions are
not only how to create and organise social
media accounts, but also how to develop a
wide reach for the accounts.
Therefore, LEAs set up one main account
per social network for an organisation in-
stead of departmental accounts.
Setting up one main account per social network for an organisa-
tion instead of departmental accounts allows building a shared
follower base. Departmental accounts (e.g. for recruiting) often
lack followers and therefore have a limited reach. Main accounts
are then used as the central point of communication.
As an exception, there are also forces that use two accounts,
such as the Berlin police force that use an additional Twitter
account for cases when it posts many messages of a special
incident; this is, however, rare. Compare:
To address specific local issues and create a more person-
al social media presence, LEAs use a number of TARGETED
Image Source: CC license by https://www.flickr.com/photos/gabrielsaldana
Effective and efficient social media use re-
quires goals and an action plan.
Therefore, LEAs define a strategy that de-
fines issues, goals, and action plans.
Like any good strategy, a social media strategy should include
the following aspects:
■■ Analysis of the status quo and identification of the issues to
address with social media
■■ Describe goals that are “SMART” (Specific, Measurable,
Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound)
■■ Policies and a concrete action plan of how to reach these
While some forces define a strategy before they become ac-
tive on social media, police forces at the forefront of adoption
run experimental projects first, and derive strategy at a later
There are several social media police strategy documents,
see Social Media DNA book Chapter 6 and Belgium (Gent):
Based on the strategy, it is possible to develop SOCIAL
Image Source: PSNI
Social media usage must respect the legal
framework of an organisation, it might re-
quire official approval and is carried out by
a larger group of people who might have
different ideas of how to use it.
Therefore, LEAs create social media pol-
icies and guidelines that describe how to
act on social media. Policies describe for
example communication with citizens and
legal aspects of investigations.
The IACP Center for social media provides a guideline for policy
Model Policy developed by the International Association of
Chiefs of Police (IACP):
Guideline by NSW Police Force, Australia:
Not security specific EC guideline on social media policies:
Belgian government policy:
Dutch handbook for communication in crisis situations:
Image Source: Pixabay
Social media use often requires the integra-
tion with existing LEA services, mobile com-
puting, software and real-time information.
Therefore, LEAs update their IT infrastruc-
ture and toolbox to enable social media
German Bavarian Police are currently introducing SAP Hana, an
in-memory database system.
The Guardia Civil in Spain implement a system named SIGO
which has been developed by Accenture to provide for integrat-
ed police info and operations management.
The infrastructure often enables the use of MOBILE
Image Source: https://www.pexels.com/photo/apple-devices-cellphone-close-up-electronics-341523/
The use of social media during the day re-
quires officers to have mobile Internet.
Therefore, LEAs equip their officers with
smartphones or tablets with mobile Internet
Increasingly LEAs equip every officer with a mobile device.
One concept is to make street cops effective on the street:
The Guardia Civil in Spain, for example, has deployed 3,000
mobile units to allow officers to remotely access vital informa-
tion at anytime.
Some organisations hand out additional devices for social me-
dia use. The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) uses iPads
and iPhones to post and engage on social media. PSNI officers
and staff do not have access to social media on their common
terminals or through their work issued Blackberry devices. Dis-
tricts and Departments within PSNI have been responsible for
purchasing devices for their own users. PSNI iPads are set up
by PSNI ICS (Information Communication Systems) to prevent
downloads of unapproved apps. Devices are also enrolled in
Airwatch, a system which enables location, remote wiping and
remote password reset. Recently, PSNI encountered an issue
on non-compatibility of first and second generation devices with
current apps resulting in the need to purchase new devices. Ide-
ally PSNI would like to find a long term and cost efficient solution
to replacing devices.
Image Source: CC license by https://www.flickr.com/photos/atomictaco/7960716222
In a crisis situation, the attention of the in-
ternational public can easily exceed server
capabilities of a local authority.
Therefore, LEAs use social media channels
as an extra communication infrastructure
that can handle heavy server loads.
During Christmas of 2010, the Avon and Somerset Constabulary
had to deal with high peaks in demand because of the murder
case of Joanna Yeates, who went missing and later was found
dead. In that case, the public’s interest overwhelmed the rented
infrastructure for the website making it inaccessible during peak
times. The police therefore chose to use a set of social me-
dia accounts to publish important information. YouTube served
as the network to distribute CCTV footage and ask the public
for information. The police also actively used Twitter and Face-
book to communicate. After the first suspect turned out to be
uninvolved, the police chose to publish a message on Twitter
only after they had captured the second suspect and collected
enough evidence to charge him with the murder. The carefully
crafted tweet (“We have charged Vincent Tabak with the murder
of Joanna Yeates #joyeates #yeates www.avonandsomerset.po-
lice.uk jo”) went immediately viral and spread across the Inter-
net. Using this set of social media accounts allowed the police
to be the central voice and remain communicating even in cases
when their own website was unreachable. (Source: COMPOSITE
In 2011, the Norwegian police used Flickr for image search in
the Utoya case. Children on that Island could not get through to
112 and the only thing they could do was to use Twitter and oth-
er means to express their need for help and provide information
on the situation.
Image Source: https://pixabay.com/ru/setevoi-rasem-svyas-487699/
Social media offer the ability to im-
prove internal knowledge exchange and
Therefore, LEAs introduce internal (enter-
prise) social media solutions that help them
share information/knowledge and collabo-
In the Netherland Politie+ (NL) is a social intranet based on an
open source software platform.
Others use commercial tool such as Yammer or BlueLine Grid
For knowledge storage and sharing, LEAs also use internal
Image Source: CC license https://www.flickr.com/photos/bcemergencyphotos/6583466115
Social media can help solve crimes in var-
Therefore, LEAs make social media part of
their investigation methods.
We describe the various ways of supporting investigations in
these related patterns:
■■ CROWDSOURCE CRIME TIPS
■■ REPORT CRIME ANONYMOUSLY
■■ HOUSE TO HOUSE
■■ ANALYSING SOCIAL MEDIA
■■ UNDERCOVER OPERATIONS
■■ SUBPOENA DATA
Image Source: Pixabay
Investigations can require interacting with
suspects in covert operations.
Therefore, LEAs create fake online perso-
na to impersonate people and befriend sus-
pects under cover.
This pattern requires a SOCIAL MEDIA POLICY that clarifies
the legal aspects and procedures. The question of whom to im-
personate and which photos and content to use needs to be
answered within the legal framework. Usually, this requires a
During the 2011 UK riots police used Flickr for image search
of offenders. See report:
Example in ISIS Facebook case (jurisprudence for undercover
operations in social media):
Dark Web FBI operation Silk Road and Silk Road 2.0 operation
In DIY JUSTICE this is a common practice too: Anonymous
and paedophile hunters:
Under cover operations in Facebook gangs:
Sometimes undercover operations are used as an INTELLI-
GENCE gathering tool, prior to criminal investigations.
Image Source: CC license by https://www.flickr.com/photos/kk/6863172432
Bystanders and witnesses may have infor-
mation that is relevant to crime investiga-
tions or address security challenges.
Therefore, LEAs use social media to ask
the public for help, targeted or not.
Equipped with smartphones, bystanders and witnesses may
capture information that is relevant to crime investigations or
address security challenges.
LEAs use social media to ask the public for help, e.g. report
of responsible officer (Boston Marathon Attack), identification
of suspects (2011 UK riots), or create a special site to submit
information (2016 Munich shooting).
LEAs use police websites to ask citizens for their help in solv-
ing cases (e.g. politie.nl in the Netherlands). The public can give
tips or describe their understanding of the event (what the sce-
nario was). People will be kept informed of new developments
in the case.
Another type of crowdsourcing crime tips is done by using the
traditional media (TV) in conjunction with social media, like the
second screen with the Dutch programme ‘Opsporing Verzocht’
Using social media for crime tips submission, is, however, not
a practice that police forces encourage, as they do not want
sensitive information to be submitted publicly or via corporate
systems. The Police Service Nothern Ireland (PSNI) regularly is-
sue appeals, updates on arrests and charges and crime preven-
tion information on their social media channels. PSNI, however,
do not accept reports of crime on their social media. The public
are advised to contact police by phone to report crime.
LEAs create podcasts to make crime cases public and ask
citizens for help.
“Crowdsolve” is a platform designed to help solve crimes:
LEAs use Pinterest to share wanted people lists:
In the UK, an online portal, enabling police and communities
to work together towards reducing crime, is provided through
the Facewatch ID app. The police post images of the individuals
they are seeking to identify. The individuals pictured are being
sought as both persons of interest and witnesses to crimes.
The Dutch Burgernet provides a mobile service where peo-
ple can register to receive police messages asking to be on
the lookout. Burgernet is a national NL initiative; a cooperation
between police, municipalities, and citizens. Participants of
Burgernet (citizens that joined Burgernet as a member) receive
a voice or text message with the request to look for a person or
vehicle in their area.
The Spanish National Police official webpage has a section
for citizen collaboration, to report allegedly criminal facts. This
report is not equivalent to a formal report, and is confidential.
Image Source: CC license by https://www.flickr.com/photos/nolagirl1969/12147810455
When doing house-to-house calls, most
people are not home, and it takes a lot of
Therefore, LEAs perform house-to-house
enquiries using social media.
Sometimes people are already organised in a social media
group such as Facebook or WhatsApp, but also they use other
means to reach a local community, for example through cell
broadcasted SMS or a police app where citizens have registered
using their postal code.
Email lists are also commonly used to reach out to local com-
munities, and some Twittercops use lists of local community
members to reach out to.
■■ From SMS bomb to Police app:
■■ Study on possibilities of implementing digital house to
house (Dutch only):
■■ “Digitaal buurtonderzoek”
Image Source: CC license by https://www.flickr.com/photos/carbonnyc/3209823136
Witnesses and victims might not want to be
identified when reporting crimes.
Therefore, LEAs offer channels or tools to
report crimes anonymously.
In the UK, there is the CrimeStoppers initiative:
In the Netherlands, there is MeldMisdaadAnoniem:
Image Source: CC license by https://www.flickr.com/photos/danielaguilar/2968034304
Information on social media can help solve
Therefore, LEAs monitor and analyse data
on social media that is relevant for crime
Note: This practice is similar to MONITORING and SOCIAL
MEDIA ANALYTICS, but in this case specific in the scope of
a crime case.
Possible uses are:
■■ Gathering of (digital forensic) evidence
■■ Finding perpetrators
■■ Finding acts of criminal offenses
■■ Profiling by using data of social media sources
■■ Social Network analysis (SNA)
iRN, the internet Recherche or Research Network used open
source tools investigations (other tools are available as well, but
are mostly classified), see:
Reference to usage figures:
Analysis is also done for non-criminal purposes. The city of
Lausanne, in partnership with Addiction Suisse and the Idiap
Research Institute, has developed a project of data mining in
“Foursquare” to study the behaviour of people at night, to bet-
ter target awareness actions, including the work of night corre-
spondents, and to document the use of Lausanne night weekend
Image Source: EFF
Sometimes it is necessary for law enforce-
ment to gain access to private information
stored on social networks.
Therefore, following court orders, LEAs
can request data from social network
This practice becomes visible in transparency reports from Ap-
ple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest:
Image Source: CC license by: https://www.flickr.com/photos/codeforamerica/25355387251
Social media offer the possibility to directly
communicate with citizen bi-directionally.
Therefore, LEAs use various ways of com-
municating and directly engaging with
Engagement and Communication is typically done via:
■■ COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT
■■ INFORMING CITIZENS
Image Source: Politie Eenheid Rotterdam
LEAs need to inform citizens.
Therefore, LEAs use social media to spread
information to citizens directly through so-
Many police forces provide regular information to the public
through their local and corporate social media channels about
crime, policing successes, daily policing experiences, human
experiences and local events.
Informing citizens is detailed in the following patterns:
■■ HUMAN SIDE STORIES
■■ CRIME MAPPING
■■ FACEBOOK ADS
■■ EDUCATING CITIZENS
■■ ANSWERING CITIZENS
■■ ALERT TOOL
■■ CROWDSOURCE CRIME TIPS
Image Source: Hanover Police
Normally news media report different on
law enforcement activities. LEAs would like
to tell their own story. This can stimulate
the (in)formal relation between citizens
and your organisation and make it more
Therefore, LEAs communicate the human
side of daily experiences and share a more
personal picture of their work.
Examples include behind-the-scenes photos, related aspects
(e.g. stories of police dogs).
Post human side stories on Facebook and Twitter: e.g. “Police
officers in Rome cook dinner for an elderly couple”:
Copblogs: In blogs police officers tell stories about their daily
work and how it effects them. These blogs show the person
behind the police officer: ‘Politieverhalen’.
Police stories on Youtube:
PSNI Instagram highlights local radio presenters spending
time with police:
PSNI instagram highlights partnership work at a public event:
PSNI share human interest, behind the scenes and daily po-
licing stories on an ongoing basis across all their social media
Image Source: CC license by https://www.flickr.com/photos/manel/15911277781
Spreading preventive information can im-
prove public security.
Therefore, LEAs use social media to share
information to explain citizens how to in-
crease their safety.
YouTube prevention information, such as Modus operandi for
Get Home Safe Advice by the Police Service of Northern Ire-
■■ Twitter and Facebook theme pages, such as the one on
Videos by the Zurich Police:
Image Source: CC license by https://www.flickr.com/photos/moonlightbulb/6936492978
Seeing physical locations of crimes can
help to understand safety issues.
Therefore, LEAs provide digital maps and
share these on social media to point to
The website of the UK Police provides information on crime map-
ping throughout the UK.
Berlin police posts map of pick pocketing.
The RedZone map helps people to get around the city in a
safe way, by preventing red zones where crime is happening
Maps also communicate results of predictive policing maps
such as the Kapo Aargau app (Switzerland).
Image Source: www.pexels.com/photo/2-soldier-with-guns-on-grey-pile-of-rocks-holding-smoke-stick-during-daytime-163489
In various cases, there is information that is
time critical for citizens.
Therefore, LEAs use tools to inform citi-
zens about time critical information. This
allows to inform citizens fast, even when
there is no or only a slow response by pub-
lic security organisations. It also allows to
overcome linguistic problems and is availa-
ble for citizens with disabilities.
Amber Alert: Facebook Amber Alert
Burgernet is a plattform for Dutch citizens:
Ads on Facebook to warn tourists for white drugs:
Weather alert: The official Twitter of the Cabinet of emergen-
cy communication and security of the Valencian Community
offers information and useful advice to face the problems of a
Example after 2016 Munich shooting:
(Text reads: +++ATTENTION+++ Avoid the area around the
#OEZ [A shopping mall]. Stay in your apartments. Leave the
The South Eastern Europe Disaster Risk Mitigation and Ad-
aptation Programme (SEEDRMAP) was used for alerting during
natural disasters in South Eastern Europe.
Image Source: CC license by https://www.flickr.com/photos/belsim/4943227066
Citizens have questions for law enforce-
ment agencies but typically do not ask, be-
cause it is difficult to do so.
Therefore, LEAs answer citizen’s questions
in special (mostly chat) sessions and pro-
vide answers to frequently asked questions
online or through an app.
Ask the Police (UK): Website and app information resource con-
tain answers to a wide variety of the general public’s most fre-
quently asked policing questions. “The website provides links
to relevant national organisations plus the facility to rate the
answer and email a specific question directly which will be an-
swered within 24 working hours. Police forces are able to in-
put additional local police information and advice for the ben-
efit of their communities.” (Source: https://www.askthe.police.uk/
The Vraagdepolitie.nl website in the Netherlands includes cha-
trooms and almost weekly theme sessions on certain crime
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) run Twitter
hours where the public can ask questions and seek advice from
police. The most regular Twitter hour is with the Chief Constable
@ChiefConPSNI, using the hashtag #AskChiefCon. These are
run twice a year. Other command teams at District Level also
run their own Twitter hours.
The Belgian @CrisisCenterBE was replying to citizens during
the Brussels bombing and at the same time would use Twitter
and Facebook to spread valuable information for 2-4 weeks af-
ter the attacks.
Image Source: CC license by https://www.flickr.com/photos/thinkpublic/2900912993
People do not know the risks of social me-
dia for their safety.
Therefore, LEAs offer education, particu-
larly to children and parents to use the in-
ternet in a responsible way.
The Spanish National Police and Google cooperate to offer talks
to schoolchildren about the opportunities, risks and tools that
the Internet presents in order to use it in a responsible way. Iden-
tify theft and harassment are the most frequent cyber crimes
suffered by teenagers.
■■ McGruff The Crime Dog is aimed at educating children:
■■ Kash Dash:
■■ Eye witness game: Hero or Zero:
■■ Tumnpas Terrorism Game trains you to detect deviant be-
■■ App Most Wanted helps you to train yourself to recognize
As part of his many activities in the field, Thomas Gabriel
Rüdiger of the Police Academy Brandenburg runs seminars in
German schools on cyber GROOMING.
The Valencia Local Police, in their task to protect the citizens,
disseminate information about the risks resulting from an irre-
sponsible use of the Internet and the social media through talks
in the schools of Valencia.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland share information
about internet and online safety on an ongoing basis across
their social media channels.
In the City of Limoges, the local security and prevention of
crime strategy includes actions to educate students about the
danger of using social media and internet in general.
In the City of Montreuil, the local security and prevention of
crime strategy includes crime prevention among youth exposed
to delinquency and violence, through a professional network to
develop activities to educate about use of internet and inform
about its consequences.
The city of Blois, describes how young people are unaware
of these risks by digital technology and internet practices most
often unknown by parents. To raise awareness of the use of
social media by young people, the city of Blois have developed a
project to educate young people through the theatre.
Image Source: license by https://www.flickr.com/photos/extranoise/125981126
In special cases LEAs need to interact with
Therefore, LEAs use Facebook advertising
to reach specific target audiences.
This has been used by Dutch police forces to specifically ad-
dress defined target groups.
Image Source: Sebastian Denef
Citizens have little insight into what govern-
ment organisations are doing.
Therefore, LEAs, for a defined time peri-
od (usually 24 hours), post many updates
about what they are doing on Twitter (that
they typically would not report).
This can also be used to draw attention to a specific topic (e.g.
reporting on a certain type of theft). Typically, organisations
post several hundred messages in this time period and run a
This also helps to promote novel social media channels. A
SOCIAL MEDIA POLICY is very helpful. This has been done
by e.g. the Manchester Police Force, Zurich Police Force, Berlin
Police Force, PSNI
There is also a global initiative:
Image Source: CC license by https://www.flickr.com/photos/robert_voors
Crisis situations require LEAs to inform cit-
Therefore, LEAs prepare for crises situa-
tions by developing message templates
they can use in crises situations.
The city police in Zurich have prepared for sending messages in
multiple languages in order to inform citizens and visitors of the
city in case of an emergency situation.
Police forces use the 2011 riots in Manchester and the 2016
shooting in Munich as examples of the messages they need to
share in times of crisis.
Before the 2011 riots, the police in Manchester had prepared
contents that could be posted in case of backfires on social
Image Source: CC license by https://www.flickr.com/photos/98323393@N08/13763095773
For community organisers, it is important
to build close and personal relationships
with certain stakeholders and citizens.
Therefore, LEAs use social media on a lo-
cal or personal level (e.g. per district) and
in combination with physical meetings, al-
lowing officers to directly connect with the
local community and local partners.
One initiative is called CoffeeCop or Coffee with a Cop:
PopUp Police Station: pop-up police station in a mall, or some-
where on the street: e.g. “local policeman Wilco Berenschot has
office hours on the street in Rotterdam, tweets abundantly and
skypes with citizens”.
The following newspaper article shows how this is not suc-
cessful in the UK:
Mobile Media Lab (NL): The Mobile Media Lab (mobile by us-
ing a truck) is used to investigate the thoughts and experiences
of citizens about the various means of communication which the
police use. Think of the website politie.nl, Police app, folders or
social media accounts (Facebook and Twitter).
E.g. Greater Manchester Police:
Zurich police department has two community police officers
who spend 50% of their time online and run personal accounts.
PSNI use local Facebook and Twitter accounts to actively en-
gage with local communities and and provide direct to audience
accounts of daily policing. Eg:
City of Rotterdam developed an application called Buurt
Bestuurt to inform and involve residents in finding solutions for
security problems of the neighbourhood. Residents can also use
the app to send their suggestions, messages to the committee
and also for NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH.
Safetipin is a very new free map-based mobile phone appli-
cation, developed in Delhi, which collects and shares safety-re-
lated information posted by users. It builds on the premise that
community participation and engagement will make our cities
safer. Safetipin is available globally and automatically provides a
local map to smartphones using GPS.
Talk London has been created by city hall as a place to dis-
cuss London’s big issues. The city looks for public opinions to
help steer the big policy decisions of the future: on housing, the
environment, transport, safety, jobs and the economy.
The city of Paris has launched a platform to associate Par-
is residents in major decisions concerning the development of
their city including security.
This practice requires the creation of TARGETED
There are several countries in which this practice has not (yet)
been introduced, as it is uncommon for officers to post publicly,
if they are not press officers.
Image Source: Pixabay
Sometimes LEAs need to interact with a
special target group.
Therefore, LEAs use social media and spe-
cial applications to interact with groups like
students or refugees.
Informing refugees: Refugees need information and guidelines
during their movement routes and settlement procedure for
their own and overall public safety. Mercy Corps, in partnership
with Google, The International Rescue Committee and other
organisations, developed, a multilingual website for refugees
moving through Europe. The website includes all relevant infor-
mation and is the default landing web page on Wi-Fi hotspots in
refugee camps. It uses current information and the geolocation
of the person to provide relevant information. The site provides
information about common milestones on the route, including
registration and asylum processes, emergency contacts, cur-
rency details and where to find water, lodging, medical care and
other local services. The website is the first thing people see
when they connect to the Wi-Fi hotspots many partners host
throughout the region. It can detect the location of the person
accessing the site, and it is updated daily to reflect constant
shifts in conditions and laws, like restrictions on movements and
refugee camp closures.
StudentAlert: During the introduction week for new students
in Groningen, the Netherlands (KEI-week) in 2016, the Dutch po-
lice set up a WhatsApp number (StudentAlert) to provide the
students during this period with information on security issues
that are important to them.
Beach Alert: WhatsApp number for people that go to the
beach and want to be informed or engage with police through
Pokemon Go neighbourhood watch:
Vraaghetdepolitie.nl is a website and YouTube channel specifi-
cally aimed at youth. Well known vloggers (video bloggers) help
launch the website on “Vloggers vragenvuur”:
Image Source: CC license by https://www.flickr.com/photos/blondinrikard/14871682502
Personal interaction requires a smaller
community of people to address.
Therefore, LEAs set up local accounts or
specific channels/platforms to address a
smaller community. Often, these accounts
are related to a district of a city or a specif-
ic group of people (e.g. students).
The Greater Manchester Police has been an early adopter of
using local accounts. You can find the list of their accounts here:
In the Netherlands, there are these categories of accounts:
■■ Neighbourhood accounts: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or
■■ Twitcop accounts: from just one neighbourhood “twitcop”
to 2000+ accounts per local unit. Research on community/
neighbourhood officers using Twitter can also be found in
the MEDIA4SEC deliverables D1.2.
■■ Theme accounts (on themes such as burglaries, etc). Those
are just police accounts.
■■ Public prosecution also has accounts per region, some-
times a public prosecutor has a personal account and there
are some theme accounts (as for human trafficking):
dNnHfOI9 (Page 65)
■■ Account for special purposes: e.g. Twitter accounts of po-
lice helicopters allow communication with people with aim
to reduce complaints about the noise. Police forces in the
UK and the U.S. also have special accounts, such as for a
K9 unit. Sometimes police animals even have social media
accounts to improve the image of the police.
Police Service of Northern Ireland have 32 Facebook accounts
which include accounts for 30 local policing areas, a Roads Po-
licing account and a corporate PSNI Facebook account. There
are 35 Twitter accounts which include accounts for 30 local
policing areas, a corporate account, a Roads Policing account,
an Air Support account and accounts for the Chief Constable
and one of the Assistant Chief Constables.
Initially Facebook accounts for each of the areas were set up
as pages and ‘ghost’ Facebook profiles that enabled users to
post to pages, however, an issue was identified when the PSNI
could not discern which user was posting to the page. Facebook
also actively seek out ghost profiles and delete them, meaning
that access to the pages was constantly at risk. This led to the
introduction of social media management tool, Hootsuite. Hoot-
suite allows PSNI social media to be managed centrally. PSNI
officers and staff have no access to social media through their
common terminals so can only use their PSNI-issued mobile de-
vices (iPads or iPhones). Social media is not accessible to users
through their work mobile phones (Blackberrys) and they are
not allowed to use their personal devices. Hootsuite is available
as an app and in a desktop version. The two versions feature
different functions so PSNI social media users have to switch be-
tween the applications to get full functionality. Complaints from
officers who previously had access to the native FB and Twitter
apps are frequent.
PSNI conducted a survey on Facebook and Twitter last year to
ask the public in Northern Ireland what they wanted from PSNI
social media. The majority of people surveyed indicated that
they preferred a local police social media presence which pro-
vided local information about crime and police activities in the
area they lived in. Local police officers and staff are trained to
post on their local social media sites, ensuring that the commu-
nity are engaging with their local police.
The Zurich city police has introduced two social media cops in
2016, the first German-posting online community policing cops:
Image Source: Sebastian Denef / Boudewijn Mayeur
Citizens spend more and more of their time
in various online spaces.
Therefore, LEAs understand social media
as a public space in which they need to pa-
trol to have visible presences that ensure
that the online space is not free of laws.
Boudewijn Mayeur of the Politie Limburg-Zuid in the Netherlands
has been running a virtual police station in Habbo Hotel, a social
game network, frequented by children.
Finnish police forces were one of the first to have police forc-
es that are dedicated to patrol the online space.
The Zurich police force, starting in 2016, has two officers who
spend 50% of their time in online networks.
This practice is emerging and is not yet widely practiced by
police forces yet.
Image Source: Flickr
LEAs need to focus their resources in ac-
cordance with needs of local communities.
Therefore, LEAs initiate polls on social
media to let citizens take part in deci-
sion-making processes. This helps to gath-
er citizens’ ideas, influence authorities, and
Dutch Police launch a campaign “You Ask, We’ll Drive” to let cit-
izens indicate their suggestions via text or plotting pins on a
Dutch Police collaborate with neighbourhoods and ask them
in a Twitter poll to mark places where drivers should be checked
Liverpool police start catching speeding drivers in areas that
citizens indicated in a Twitter poll:
Image Source: CC license by https://www.flickr.com/photos/danielthornton/8618932799
Places and properties affected by the pub-
lic disorder caused by riots need cleaning,
recovery, and restoration.
Therefore, LEAs use social media to organ-
ise volunteers in to help clean help and to
make contributions to public safety.
UK Riots 2011: Campaign supported by over 60,000 people
with #RiotCleanup becoming one of the most popular hashtags
on Twitter during the days of the riots plus crowdfunding & char-
Cleanup for the 2013 floods in Germany:
Project CleanX project (similar to London and Vancouver):
Vancouver CleanUp project after the riots:
Image Source: CC License NYPD
Public security organisations need to at-
tract young talent.
Therefore, LEAs use social media to reach
and attract young applicants.
Recruitment can be very effective with a comprehensive
SOCIAL MEDIA STRATEGY and part of normal social com-
munications. German police forces report how communication,
not even related to recruitment, helps making people aware of
the police and recognize them as a modern organisation.
Even though the German police force was critized for this un-
usual rap video, it helped recruitment:
a second version:
#Crimediggers: As part of a recruitment campaign to recruit
digital detectives, the Dutch police built an online challenge.
Through the “Crime Diggers” challenge, participants can get ac-
quainted with both digital and financial investigations:
In Northern Ireland PSNI also actively advertise job vacancies
for all positions within PSNI on social media.
Image Source: www.pexels.com/photo/internet-screen-security-protection-60504/
Given the influence that social media have
on public safety, it is important to take care
of the state of social media in terms of pub-
lic safety and to react on remarks and com-
plaints of citizens.
Therefore, LEAs set up a special team to
monitor social media to provide service to
citizens and influence the online space (and
■■ REFUTE RUMOURS
The city of The Hague uses information posted about city
issues on social media to understand and resolve these issues.
They worked with people who had been involved in WEBCARE
at airline companies.
This is was has used in controversial ways, where LEAs, to-
gether with volunteer citizens, generate online narrative themes
related to a transnational protest in order to frame or silence
oppositional claims of protest activists and police collective ac-
■■ The 2010 Seoul G20 Summit: When Big Brother Uses Twit-
ter, Too: Productive Forms of Policing and the Role of Media
in the Seoul G20 Protests in South Korea Lee, K.,2015
Image Source: CC license https://www.flickr.com/photos/foilman
On social media, especially in crisis situa-
tions, rumors spread easily.
Therefore, LEAs use social media to refute
rumors, as they have a strong voice in so-
cial media that others refer to as a trusted
During the UK Riots in 2011 a large part of the communication
has been to refute rumours.
■■ In: Sebastian Denef, Petra Saskia Bayerl, and Nico Kaptein
(2013): Social Media and the Police—Tweeting Practices of
British Police Forces during the August 2011 Riots. In Pro-
ceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in
Computing Systems (Paris, France, April 27–May 2, 2013).
CHI’13. New York, NY: ACM Press.
Boston Marathon: Looking for the wrong persons. See:
Shooting Munich 2016: Police clarified several misleading and
wrong information about additional attacks.
A rumour annotation tool with tweets, developed for the Fer-
guson, Missouri, U.S. unrest in August 2014, enabling annota-
tors to read through the tweets and annotate them as being
rumours or norumours.
■■ In: Best practice referred in academic literature : ‘Zubia-
ga, A., Liakata, M., Procter, R., Bontcheva, K. & Tolmie, P.,
2015-Towards detecting rumors in social media’
Social Media Verification handbook
FEMA rumour control center:
The West Midlands Police Force use social media, primarily
Twitter, to counter rumours. They for instance tweeted officers
standing outside the station to fight a rumour of an attack on
their police station.
■■ In: Bartlett J., Miller C. (2013), @metpoliceuk How Twitter is
changing modern policing the case of the Woolwich After-
math. London: Demos.
Image Source: CC license https://www.flickr.com/photos/phantomfies/4660024771
Trust and credibility are key to the work of
law enforcement agencies.
Therefore, LEAs use social media to influ-
ence and manage the reputation of their
Reputation management is often done using HUMAN SIDE
STORIES and part of WEBCARE.
Young Ukrainian female police stirs social media:
Police in Iceland (and around the world) use cute and funny
moves on social media:
The Shake It Off Cop:
There are also cases, where reputation management does
not work as planned and brings up citizen criticism. “My NYPD”
Image Source: CC0 freegreatpicture.com
In the event of crisis, people might worry
about the situation.
Therefore, LEAs use social media to com-
municate actions that have been taken to
restore public safety and respond to social
UK Riots 2011: A large part of the communication was aimed at
■■ In: Sebastian Denef, Petra Saskia Bayerl, and Nico Kaptein
(2013): Social Media and the Police—Tweeting Practices of
British Police Forces during the August 2011 Riots. In Pro-
ceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in
Computing Systems (Paris, France, April 27–May 2, 2013).
CHI’13. New York, NY: ACM Press.
Munich Shooting 2016: The police used Twitter to clarify the
situation and reassure citizens:
Image Source: CC license by: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ter-burg/17315216959
Social media provide various ways of em-
Therefore, citizens use social media to ad-
dress issues of their concern.
Taking things into their own hands, citizens use social media
to address public security issues. The following pattern list de-
scribes a number of practices:
■■ ORGANISE PROTESTS
■■ DIY JUSTICE
■■ DIY CITIZEN JOURNALISM
■■ DIY ACCOUNTS
■■ DIY INTELLIGENCE
■■ DIY WATCH DOG
■■ DIY INVESTIGATION
■■ NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH
Image Source: CC license by https://www.flickr.com/photos/cesarastudillo/267809308
Citizens may oppose actions of govern-
ment or issues in society.
Therefore, citizens use social media to or-
ganise protests or mass gatherings.
Hashtags have become a simple yet effective tool in organising
Public Facebook pages allow “invitations to all” and thus have
a wide reach.
■■ Project X
■■ Harlem Shake
As governments sometimes try to control social media, Fire-
chat is used as a tool for ad-hoc local networks.
The BlackLivesMatter movement uses social media to protest
against police violence:
During the Arabic Spring, social media was the core organiz-
In Brazil, “Rolezinho” is a form of protest where black youth
Following terrorist attacks in Paris, people organised the “Je
Suis Charlie” movement:
The “Platforme Citoyen” is a group of citizens formed to help
with the inflow of refugees in Belgium. During 2015, they con-
ducted two large marches which were organised through their
During the Hong Kong protests, the protesting crowds used
Firechat, a peer-to-peer social media app to circumvent the gov-
The Sukey app helps protesters to avoid police kettles:
Image Source: CC license by https://www.flickr.com/photos/126919879@N03/14926645375
Citizens offended by other citizens, com-
panies or government activity and want to
correct the wrong.
Therefore, citizens respond through coordi-
nated retaliation on digital media, including
mobile devices and social media platforms.
Vigilantism can include citizens playing judge and “naming and
shaming” individuals, where users publish someone’s personal
details on a public site.
■■ Examples: Vancouver Riots, ‘Kopschoppers’ incident the
Netherlands Source: Research by Daniel Trottier
There are several groups of paedophile hunters.
Anonymous, the activist group, has conducted various online
actions (doxing, trolling).
Following shootings in the U.S., people began to publicly map
In Italy, a group of students started to create “Mafiamaps” to
fight organised crime.
Other examples of online groups using social media:
■■ Anonymous deatheaters:
■■ Dark Justice:
■■ The Punisher Squad:
■■ The Internet Interceptors:
■■ The Creep Catchers:
Image Source: CC license by https://www.flickr.com/photos/esthervargasc/10948923353
Social media allow each individual to broad-
cast and share a situation that otherwise
nobody would report about.
Therefore, citizens report news them-
selves, e.g. by using live streaming video
applications to create situational aware-
ness for other citizens and for other gov-
Several real-time social media are used to report on crimes as
■■ Twitter has become a core medium for live reporting
Example of a knife wielding man in New York City:
■■ Citizens also report with life streaming apps: Cameraad /
NULive and real-time video platform Periscope and Vine
(Example during Boston Bombings)
■■ Reddit was been frequently used to report on unfolding in-
Additionally, blogs are used to report about public safety is-
To inform citizens report, they use apps that scan police radio
communication from around the world:
Image Source: https://static.pexels.com/photos/6518/man-person-hands-coffee.jpg
Authorities can be slow in adopting social
Therefore, citizens provide security-
relevant information to other citizens
A number of forums allow citizens to help other citizens (sharing
prevention tips, missing persons, caring for victims, discussing
problems, etc.) via different forums, newsgroups, Facebook
Others offer help for victims, such as the Dutch initiative:
Unofficial news of police and firefighters:
In the Netherlands, the P2000 network is used on various
social media channels for incident reports, based on the official
C2000 network for police, firemen and ambulance profession-
Citizens also use smartphone apps to inform of different re-
al-time road incidents (e.g. Waze, Socialdrive). While these apps
can be used to share useful information in a very immediate
form, they also can create security breaches, according to
some LEAs, and therefore are considered controversial.
Image Source: https://static.pexels.com/photos/497295/pexels-photo-497295.jpeg
Open data allows citizens to make sense of
information for their own purposes.
Therefore, citizens collect and store data,
sometimes map it, and distribute and share
it to make it useful for a specific context.
Wikileaks collects data from leaks (e.g. Panama papers)
Bellingcat collects intelligence and provides reports (e.g.
Ukraine conflict vehicle tracking project)
Politwoops shows deleted tweets from politicians and other
iAWACS is a software that automatically analyses signals from
Using CRIME MAPPING, mafia maps highlight crime areas:
Image Source: CC license by https://www.flickr.com/photos/lourencoparente/8961453394
Authorities can act outside the law.
Therefore, citizens use social media to
watch und publicly share LEAs actions.
There are several cases in which citizens act as a watchdog for
■■ HandsUp 4 Justice
Image Source: CC license by https://www.flickr.com/photos/text100/12177502223
Authorities can be slow, limited, or unwill-
ing to make investigations.
Therefore, citizens use public sources to
investigate and put together the pieces of
information that is (publicly) available.
Apps, such as “Self Evident” support DIY investigations.
Bellingcat investigated the shooting down of flight Malaysian
Airlines MH17 in the Ukraine.
■■ See report:
Web sleuth networks work on identifying corpses (e.g. the
Other work on searching the missing Malaysian Airlines air-
plane using a microtask platform for satellite images:
Massive online and offline search of for the missing brothers
Ruben and Julian:
A Netflix TV series, “Making a murderer”, investigated a mur-
der case that had been closed many years before and sparked a
public debat on the verdict.
Image Source: Twitter
Citizens might not feel safe or well-protect-
ed in their neighbourhood.
Therefore, citizens organise their own
neighbourhood watch, supported by social
media use, e.g. WhatsApp groups and spe-
In the Netherlands, neighbourhood watch groups use WhatsApp
to organise themselves.
In the U.S. and recently also in European Countries, Nextdoor
is a private social network for neighborhood watch.
Pokemon Go is also used for neighbourhood watch:
Image Source: CC license by https://www.flickr.com/photos/ahmad_ridhwan/4897260561
Social media can be used for various crim-
Therefore, criminals use social media be-
fore, during, or after crimes.
People adopt social media for criminal activities in many ways:
■■ ILLEGAL MARKET PLACE
■■ GANG RECRUITMENT
■■ FACEBOOK THUGGING
■■ IDENTITY THEFT & FRAUD
■■ THREATENING & RANSOM
■■ REVENGE PORN
Image Source: CC License by https://www.flickr.com/photos/macrj/5430812027
In educational institutions, as well as at
workplaces, cases of tensions between
people are very common.
Therefore, offenders can attack the dignity
of the victim through intense forms of re-
curring insults, harassment, and abuse on
the social media.
Cybermobbing can take two forms – either attacks on digital
media become an exceeded form of physical insults, or the vic-
tims are attacked because of their own publications in social
media. The latter is based on the concept of digital narcissism,
according to which people gain recognition and self-confidence
through self-presentation in digital space.
Some cases of cyberbullying were fatal for victims and gar-
nered global attention:
■■ The Ryan Halligan Case:
■■ The Megan Meier Case:
■■ The Amanda Todd Case:
As this problem is urgent in many countries, various associa-
tions initiate projects to prevent cyberbullying and mobbing and
protect users of all ages from aggressive behaviour and online
Image Source: https://www.pexels.com/photo/adult-affection-close-up-couple-235966/
People are more likely to help with money
those whom they trust. Dating platforms
and social media are frequently used with
Therefore, criminals can use a victim’s
trust to make them transfer high amounts
of money to perpetrators.
Criminals set up special scenarios which require immediate ac-
tion with the aim to receive money from victims. Thus, offenders
can pretend to be seriously ill, apprehended or threatened.
The procedures are essentially similar to cybergrooming pro-
cesses with children.
Cases of romance scams have occurred all over the world:
Image Source: CC license by https://www.flickr.com/photos/jrjamesarchive/9305591191
Social media offers information to plan a
crime, but also a platform to discuss the
planning of a crime.
Therefore, criminals use social media to
plan attacks and crimes.