Digital/Online Marketing Communications Strategy

Should Social Media Sites Monitor Their Platform To Prevent Crime?

By on February 18, 2010 in commentary, social media with 0 Comments

When teenagers create a mob and then wreck havoc on city streets who is to blame?

If the messages to congregate are sent via Twitter and Facebook, does that mean those sites are responsible in some way?

We’ll soon find out, if politicos in Philadelphia, Pa. have anything to say about it.

Two City Council members, James Kenney and Frank DiCicco, are hopping mad at social media, because they believe it fueled a Center City melee.

A ruckus likely organized through social media

This past Tuesday approximately 150 teens gathered at an urban shopping mall. They damaged a department store then took to the streets. The throng fought amongst themselves, tossed snowballs at cars and pedestrians, and knocked down startled bystanders.

Police rushed to the scene but were initially overwhelmed. Eventually the cops arrested more than a dozen participants who were reportedly charged with disorderly conduct and rioting.

Kenney and DiCiccio have asked the City Council president to sue social media sites, if it is determined they were the means used to organize the dust-up. Kenney is quoted in the Philadelphia Inquirer as having said: “This is urban terrorism. If they’re using those sites to conduct this thuggery, then I want to find out if it’s true, and I want to get the appropriate legal action to get them to warn us.”

Should social media sites intervene to prevent crime?

By all accounts the incident sounds scary. Had I been there, I’m sure I would have been terrified.

But I would not blame social media for the brawl.

Think about it: when thieves use phones to coordinate a heist, is the phone company complicit in the caper? What if the crooks use text messages, or email; does that make it any different?

Is the conveyance through which a crime is planned responsible for prevention of the crime?

I’m no legal eagle, but I don’t see how.

How do you monitor an entire social media platform?

You can argue that Twitter is an open platform where messages enter a public stream that anyone can see. It’s possible to watch the stream and perhaps figure out when people are up to no good.

Maybe so. But who should do the monitoring? Do these council guys expect Twitter, which according to pingdom processes in excess of 40 million tweets on a daily basis, to baby-sit and make reports on the stream? The notion is far-fetched.

Same goes for Facebook, where an estimated 175 million users log on per day, and which has privacy features that can prevent posts from going fully public.

Meanwhile, do we even want social media sites to monitor and make judgments on what we’re posting? Who’s to say if a message harbors criminal intent?

If I write a tweet that says “My neighbor makes so much noise I just want to kill him” should I get reported? The expression “I just want to kill him” is a common expression of anger or blowing off steam.

What if the perpetrators use a code? Suppose the kids who created havoc in Philly had just sent a message that read “Let’s all meet on 8th street.” Based on those words you can’t tell they intend to go on a rampage.

I just don’t see how you can expect the sites to keep a watch over all the content.

Big Twitter is watching?

I understand why the Councilmen are incensed about the melee. It was an outrageous event.

Even so, demanding social media sites do routine surveillance work is spooky.

– Deni Kasrel

What do YOU think? Should social media sites monitor and report activity that runs across their transoms? Anyone know the legalities here? Please share your thoughts.

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About the Author

About the Author: Deni Kasrel is seasoned (slightly spicy) specialist in digital/online communications. .


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  1. A shift in our society has occurred the past few years. We have gone from fearing the security of the internet to anything/everything goes, your nobody unless everything about you is transparent. There is little to no digital hygiene that is of any concern with many of the nets younger users. This is all they have known since High School, so it must be safe, secure, and no problem. I don’t know where this all nets out for privacy and society. Caution is still necessary, storage is unlimited and cheap and everything is connected.

  2. Advise says:

    I think it wise to monitor simply because of the radical state of mind of some people. However it should be a key word monitoring system that simply forwards those less then politically correct comments to a restricted area where those who don’t have a problem with controversial comments can go there and feed there unusual taste? There has to always be some form of restrictions on freedom or it can become binding to others that want to share in it, don’t you think?

  3. Deni Kasrel says:

    Nexttolast: I love that term: digital hygiene. A good way to put it. And it’s true, the youth of today, who have grown up digital, have a vastly different view of privacy than older generations. Like you, I can’t say where it all nets out, but I would expect that new aspects of law will develop to cover some of the currently murky issues that arise from social media.

    Advise: I guess my first thought to your comment is, how does one qualify what is politically incorrect. It depends on your politics, right? I sometimes cringe when I hear some of the un-PC things that come out of certain popular comic’s mouths, meanwhile, most of the audience is roaring with laughter. So much as to do with tolerance and even cultural background.

    But otherwise, you are correct, even free societies have restrictive aspects.

  4. Jim Kenney says:

    This disgraceful event that took place in my city this week could have never been planned or have formed so quickly without the social networking sites. If child sexual predators were using a site to find young kids or if terrorists were using them to plan an incident, would it not be proper to give someone a heads up? I am not looking to investigate or sue to get money from these sites. I am looking for some advanced notice so we may deploy to keep someone from being hurt or killed and to try to save our retail and tourism economy. The technology exists to tag this activity and at least give a city a chance to be prepared. I am not blaming the sites for the incident. These thuggish kids are to blame. They will be prosecuted and punished. I just want to prevent these sites from being used as an instrument of crime.

    • Deni Kasrel says:


      Thanks for your comment and you are likely correct that social networking sites played a role in how quickly the mob formed. I do not dispute that. My beef, if may be so-called, is in thinking it is the responsibility of the people who run the platforms to do the policing. The tagging or monitoring can be done by our city police then, or whoever else has a vested legal interest in this type of thing. This monitoring and any follow-up must fit within the bounds of our legal system.

      The sites themselves are not in the business of judging what is or is not a threat and there is entirely too much traffic that runs through Facebook, Twitter and other networks for us to reasonably expect them to monitor for these purposes. We are one city among how many million cities? I don’t know that number but it is vast. We can’t expect the sites to do our investigative legwork. So, that’s what I’m saying here, the aim is off on who is to be looking out and who gives a heads up.

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