Social Media – the new crime fighter?

7 Jan

I have covered elsewhere in my blogs the use of social media in various situations – those caught up in the police gun battle for a Mexican ‘drug lord’, the creation of online encyclopaedia, reporting court cases as they happen. But this week another use for the social media caught my eye. 

Fighting crime!

Facebook image for Jo Yeats

Facebook page set up by Avon & Somerset Police

Okay so it may sound a little dramatic, but are our law enforcement agencies really using social media to help them solve crimes? The answer is yes.

Earlier this week missing 14 year old Serena Beakhurst was found safe and well, her case having been highlighted on Twitter by various celebrities.  A Facebook page had also been set up regarding her absence too.

I was also struck by the media coverage of awful the murder of Jo Yeates in Bristol over the Christmas holidays, detailing that a Facebook page had been set up by Police in order to gather information. I assume using the internet / Facebook is a method that many people feel more comfortable with than speaking to a Police officer directly.  But as with my earlier blog on Wikipedia, does the arms length nature of the information mean that it may not always be correct.

On searching the internet for further examples of the use of the social media to fight crime I came across various articles detailing its use.  One such example was explaining how Greater Manchester Police (well known for being early adopters of new technology) were using Facebook to fight crime in their area.

And its not just law enforcement in the UK that is making use of the social web, in the US Maine police officers are also taking advantage of social media as part of their resources.

Of course the media has long been used to help the police and others solve crimes – we are too aware of the please for witnesses to come forward issued on television news or in the press, as those who are charged with capturing society’s wrong doers seek that vital clue that will ensure those guilty are brought to justice. 

You have to wonder though, if the inventors of Facebook, Twitter etc. ever foresaw their social tools playing this role?


Here’s to the next decade!

6 Jan

Judy Finnigan - not 63!

Happy New Year – my first blog of 2011!

I must admit after all the enjoyment and over indulgence of the festive season I was struggling to get my brain into gear… after all the time spent with the kids unwrapping the numerous gifts and trying to recycle the leftover food my poor grey matter is little more than mush.

But my circuitous thought process led me think about that the kids had done over the holidays, and how things were changing now that my son is 10 (no more ELC brightly coloured plastic, hello Nerf guns and their brightly coloured plastic).  I also realised that his first decade had also been the first of the century (okay, I told you my brain was slow) and how much communications had changed in that time; MySpace, Facebook, Twitter have all changed forever the way we communicate socially and also how commercial communications will be delivered; but I then came across an article on Wikipedia which is also 10 years old.

Wikipedia; the watchword in online encylclopedia, has changed how we search for information.  Ask any 10 year old where to find information on a certain topic and they will undoubtedly suggest Wikipedia.   For those of you who have just arrived from Mars (or Venus!) Wikipedia was launched in 2001 as the first open source, online web based encycolpedia (according to their website). 

Today the site holds more than 15 million individual entries – a phenomenal amount of information. 

Wikipedia is a wonderful product, allowing individuals to contribute to an online information resource, that is widely used and respected.  But the site must be used with caution because of its open source nature – users can simply log in and add to and change information.  I for one have logged in and changed the age of Judy Finnigan in the past (I made her 63 much to my own amusement – it as the margaritas!) but if I can amend non vital information like that then there is little stopping the world at large amending and changing figures and information.

For me the question is, how do we create reliable open source information  that we really can trust?    Anyone?

Tweeting Approved

20 Dec

 The Wikileaks / Julian Assange saga continues to provide food for thought this week, with the announcement of the Lord Chief Justice that Tweeting will be allowed in Court (

 This follows on from bail hearing of the Wikileaks founder last week where the presiding Judge allowed journalists to Tweet live from the proceedings. But just what will this mean for journalists and how they report?

It will, no doubt,  alter how our n ews is generated. No longer will journalists leave at the end of a trial and file their reports, they will now have to report on a minute by minute (140 character) basis… and I think this will create an interesting tool for the media. With the advent of 24 hour rolling news we all know that there is a need to provide new output (and plenty of it). With live Tweeting from high profile (and not so high profile) court cases we will have an additional source of news, live and as it happens.

Of course, this new means of providing information regarding legal cases will be fraught with challenges; and will, no doubt, be subject to censorship when the case demands it. Journalists will also need to be careful on how they use the information so that they do not contravene the law and prejudice the case; the risk of finding yourself in contempt of court may be closer to journalists than in the past – will they take the risk?

Anonymous Danger

9 Dec

Markets are conversations –sometimes they seem to be arguments.  In ‘The Cluetrain Manifesto’ Christopher Locke talks about how “… traditional media condition the audience to be passive consumers… In contrast the Internet invites participation.  It is genuinely empowering…”

A perfect example of this is the ongoing furore surrounding the Wikileaks distribution of diplomatic cables and the arrest of Julian Assange.

Following on from Assange’s arrest and in response to information supplied by the US government regarding the ‘illegal’ activities of Wikileaks, PayPal decided to stop taking donations for the organisation.  Another supplier, Mastercard, also withdrew its services to process payments.  The income stream for Wikileaks was being effectively cut off.


This did not please a large number of supporters of Wikileaks, and a group named The Anonymous decided to use the web to take some direct action.  The action they chose to take was to use malware which would create a denial of service (DoS) essentially ‘crashing’ the sites of the targeted companies.  It was able to do this via a network of supporters who had downloaded the malware in order to use it to attack organisations deemed unsupportive of Wikileaks. 

Ironically the Wikileaks site itself had been the victim of a similar attack (rumoured to have been led by the American Government).

The result for PayPal and Mastercard was that they experienced what they called ‘service disruption’.  Clearly The Anonymous action was successful, at least in part, in damaging these brands – if these so called ‘hacktivists’ can bring down the site what else can they do?  Obtain my personal information?  In an age when identity theft is a concern for everyone using the net this type of activity must surely cause a little concern.

The questions now must be, what can companies do to protect their brand (and data infrastructure) from online attack?  There is no simple answer when a company can be attacked (by thousands of armchair hacktivists) for withdrawing its service (whether or not you believe it was at the behest of the US government) and if consumers believe they may be threatened how can you convince them that their data is safe?     

You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do…

3 Dec

The above title is a quote from Henry Ford; You can’t build a reputation on what you intend to do – so how do you build a (new media) reputation? And why is new media becoming more important when trying to manage your reputation?

Social media is fast becoming one of the most the useful tools a communications professional can use to manage her company’s reputation.  It can provide useful access, in real time, to your customers’ thoughts and feelings; it can be used to identify issues with your services and products; and it can be used to generate positive associations with your brand.  But just as easily it can be used to damage your reputation, which is why it needs to be handled with care.

In recent years, many companies have damaged their reputation with their own inept use of services such as Twitter.  For example Habitat using the #hashtag facility to tap into trending topics on Twitter resulted in links to discounted furniture offerings being displayed amongst tweets from Iranian protestors about the elections at the time, as they tried to organise protests against the government.  The resulting tweets in response to this crass publicity spamming were far from complimentary toward Habitat and they were forced to publically apologise.

Telecoms giant Vodafone was forced to issue an apology after an employee posted an obscene message on one of the companies official feeds. The feed, which was supposed to be used by staff to send out technical information and handy hints, was used by a staff member to send out an inappropriate comment.  The company was then put in the position of having to handle complaints and enquiries from customers; in addition to investigating and disciplining the member of staff in question.

And it is not just companies who are taking advantage of new media to impact on reputation management.  One of the most memorable cases in recent years was that of Dave Carroll, a musician who was travelling with United Airlines. The baggage handling staff had damaged Mr Carroll’s guitar and had refused to pay compensation.  After several months of fruitless discussions he decided to make a song about his problems and post it on YouTube  

United Airlines then faced a massive PR crisis with The Economist magazine suggesting that Dave Carroll’s actions had cost the company £180million

So back to Ford – when it launched its new Ford Fiesta car into the USA it offered 100 lucky drivers the opportunity to win a drive of the new car.  All they had to do was write a review using social media; over 100 years after Henry Ford founded the company they are embracing the new and building their reputation with action.  Afer all you can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do, only what you have done.

Broadcast News

18 Nov
A boat on the edge of a lake - a metaphor for our conversation with the world

Our conversation with the world

According the Clay Shirky “…we are all media outlets…”.  And with the mass of evidence in favour of his theory , not just within his book ‘Here Comes Everybody’ but in the everyday world around me, this would be hard to deny. 

Every day news stories are now frequently peppered with references to Twitter (as an official source of credible information) especially when the story relates to celebrities (actress Eva Longoria’s announcement regarding her impending divorce was made on Twitter 17th November) but not only that, as I mentioned in my last blog, serious news outlets use ‘social media’ as a credible source nowadays.

The old model of broadcast media -with one talking to (too) many – has evolved.  Even with traditional media is attempting to make the ‘conversation’ two way; although this is usually limited to the Vote Now for your favourite X-Factor contestant / I’m a Celebrity victim etc.

As our use of the internet, and the development of websites such as, Twitter and YouTube, we are all able to broadcast/communicate with ease with the rest of the world.  This new model of one talking to many and the many talking back – via commentary, alternative posts, discussion forums etc. – means that we all have the opportunity to create and disseminate our own text, pictures or movies.

One of the most popular forums for this is YouTube, whose very tag line “Broadcast Yourself” encapsulates beautifully just what this new model of communications is all about.  And if my 10 year and 7 year old can grasp it, with their regular ‘broadcasts’ it is undoubtedly interwoven seamlessly into our social culture.

Tony Tomato and the Power of Twitter

8 Nov

This weekend I had an epiphany.  No longer would I view Twitter  as a social tool (to be used by celebrities who like to tweet about every thought they have – Simon Pegg anyone – and people with too much time on their hands) now I would start to view it as a powerful communications tool.

Lying in bed on Saturday morning, listening the BBC World Service, the news round-up contained not one but two stories where Twitter had played a substantial part in the reporting. 

The first was the story that the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei had used the microblogging site to announce that he had been placed under house arrest as a result of his criticism of the Chinese government.  As a consequence of his ‘dissent’ Mr Weiwei’s new studio was to be destroyed and the ‘demoltion party’ he had planned would not be going ahead.

The BBC reported that ‘According to messages on his Twitter feed, Mr Ai has been told he will be under house arrest until midnight on Sunday. “Please accept my deepest apologies,” he tweeted to his guests in Shanghai.’ .

But this was not the only story to feature the ‘Power of Twitter’ within the same news bulletin.  The second story was that of a gun battle in the Mexican border town of Matamoros, which saw a drug cartel leader Ezequiel Cardenas Guillen, known as “Tony Tormenta” (but interpreted by my half asleep self as Tony Tomato – what kind of name is that for a drugs baron?), had been shot dead after several hours of battle with Mexican Marines and other security forces. 

 What made this story stand out (amongst the depressing litany of ‘gun/drug related violence in Mexico) was the newsreaders comment that locals had used the social networking site Twitter to post updates on the battle, with some local residents using the service to communicate warning to stay indoors etc. 

The drama was also captured by an unknown local who filmed some of the battle and later posted it on YouTube.  Whilst this was a brave thing to do, it may be best if ‘Mexican Fat Boy 1’ now lies low as filming criminals and posting it on the web does not seem like the best plan if you want to see another day.

So, Twitter and YouTube, more to it than I realised – now who’s feeling silly?