Crowd-sourced justice

Reece Jacobsen Submitted by on the 10th of May 2012

Social networks have been making the news lately, unfortunately though, it has been for all the wrong reasons. Both in my job and personal life, I am a massive advocate of social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, although after the news in recent weeks, I’ve been finding it increasingly difficult to justify this support.

Two stories stand out for me. The first being the news of the so-called ‘Facebook rapist’ who lured two young models into his trap using the popular social network, and the second being @JessicaLeandra and @Tshiditee’s ridiculous antics on Twitter, sending South Africa into a nationwide racism row.

For my own peace of mind I started thinking; if social media is being used as a tool to co-ordinate crime, organise riots and spread hatespeech, its very nature must also surely have the capability to help catch the perpetrators? Luckily for me I didn’t have to look for too long before I found some pretty interesting stories.

The first article I came across told of a woman who had been caught on camera whilst hurling racist abuse on a train in the UK. This video was subsequently uploaded to YouTube and after it had gone viral; she was identified, arrested and charged. Similarly, Liam Stacey, a British student, was jailed for 56 days after the social media community reported his racist abuse on Twitter towards footballer Fabrice Muamba after he collapsed on the field.

In other recent news, a Chicago man was charged with domestic battery and unlawful restraint after he posted a picture on Facebook of his one-year-old daughter bound in duct tape. Likewise, a Reading resident, thinking his anonymity would help keep him safe, has been jailed for 18 weeks after having posted abusive remarks on Facebook pages that had been set up in remembrance of girls that passed.

Looking a little closer to home, I read an amazing story about a man who was rescued and found alive in the boot of his car shortly after he had been hijacked. A tweet frenzy orchestrated by @PigSpotter and the victim’s friend got the attention of the police who apprehended the vehicle following the setup of a roadblock approximately 2 hours after the first tweet had been sent.

This begs the question, what role does social media have to play in the future of law enforcement? I’d like to think it’s a pivotal one. More and more tweets, posts YouTube videos and the social community have been used to apprehend and convict a multitude of criminal offenders.

Locally, and following Jessica’s racist tweets, the Human Rights Commission received 45 complaints and are apparently investigating the case. Her being found guilty would be a landmark moment for South Africa in its fight against hate speech.

Globally, there are already a number of police forces around the globe using social networks as effective tools to keep their finger on the criminal pulse.

Whether this was intended or not, it is my belief that going forward, social media and crowd-sourced information will be interwoven into the very fabric of crime fighting. Even as a regular citizen, being a member of the digital community gives us both the power and responsibility to act against wrongdoing and ensure that these platforms are free to be enjoyed by all without hate-speech or discrimination.