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Whilst the web has been changing rapidly in recent years in terms of the way we communicate, one of the most interesting things for me is watching the actual impact it has offline in other areas of our ‘real’ lives. We’ve all heard about the impact of ‘citizen journalism’, with social media leading the charge in reporting, but this in turn has also given power back to everyday people in the combatting and the reporting of crime.
Welcome to the new age of ‘Community Justice’ – where social platforms have empowered people to fight crime themselves.
Take the London riots last year. We experienced first hand the power of social platforms in bringing looters and rioters to justice. The Metropolitan Police started to crowd source crime information by uploading pictures from CCTV cameras to their Flickr account, asking for the public to help them identify the suspects. Pictures on the account at time of writing show items stolen in recent burglaries with the same purpose.
Remember this Twitpic? Just one of the many images circulated by people angry at what had happened. Twitter users themselves rallied to help identify looters. This combined with Tumblr accounts and websites dedicated to catching the guilty few showcased just how quickly the web can move to create services and mashups which help everyday people do their bit in crime stopping.
Whilst Twitter and Blackberry communication was in some places (*cough* Daily Mail) blamed for helping to organise the rioting in the first place, there was in balance much more done by the greater good. A twitter account ‘RiotCleanup‘ attracted almost 70,000 followers in less than a day. The account, operated by artist Dan Thompson, shared information about where to go to help, and there was also a Facebook page setup with over 19,000 fans created for sharing news and information.
Another victim of the riots, Malaysian student Asyraf Haziq was assaulted and robbed by rioters. When the footage turned up on YouTube, it blew up, going viral all over the web. The exposure this received undoubtedly helped bring not only a massive focus to the case, but a successful conviction against the offender. With the web outraged at the event, again crowd sourcing was used to do good, and help right the wrong. A tumblr page later helped raise over £23,000 for Asyraf.
Whilst the London riots were reported on globally, the web is being used on a daily basis to great effect for what would ordinarily be considered more minor crimes. YouTube in particular has helped to empower ordinary individuals to bring wrong doings in front of the courts.
This video below (NSFW) of a woman on the Tube racially abusing other passengers was also seen by millions, thanks largely to social media. It was widely shared on Facebook and Twitter, and again, resulted in an arrest for insighting racial hatred.
As mobile smartphones with built in recording facilities become more widespread, we are seeing this type of citizen policing happening on the web. Another handheld video which has recently done the rounds shows a brazen thief stealing a phone, and confronted by another passenger on the train.
Interestingly, this guy has chosen to do nothing more than record the event, without being a have a go hero or endanger his own personal safety. With Matt Parker – (the blogger in question) being no stranger to the impact of social justice, it has since been picked up on major blogs such as Gizmodo, and as a relatively new, and unsolved case I’m doing my bit here too.
There are countless stories of how Twitter has helped to stop crime and crowd source information as well. Take the case of the man tracking his stolen laptop himself, (using Prey) again resulting in a conviction. This tweet and this also shows that everyday people are turning to tech and social media for quicker results in catching criminals themselves, both received 50+ tweets respectively.
These examples are widespread, and particularly as smartphones penetration grows, will likely become a frequent occurrence as the social conscience of the web helps to tip the balance in the favour of victims rather than the criminals.
Social media is, and continues to power the new citizens arrest of the technological era.