July 4, 2012

What the tech? Social media for fun, work, fighting crime

(Photo illustration by Ted Schnell • BocaJump)

First in a series

By Ted Schnell • BocaJump | Monday, July 2, 2012

It’s no secret that since at least 2007, criminals have been using Facebook, Twitter and other social media to plan burglaries, to stalk ex-girlfriends, and even, in one extreme case in 2007, to bully a child badly enough that she committed suicide.

Locally, prosecutors have said that one of two Elgin gang members tried using Facebook in the hours leading up to the murder with which the two have been charged to call out rival gang members to fight.

Social media are ubiquitous, and whether you use them for personal enjoyment or for work, there are people out there who look on Facebook, Twitter and even YouTube with nefarious purposes.

The popularity of social media arises from its ease of use, its ability to establish broad networks and its flexibility — from posting typed messages to putting up cellphone photos and even videos remotely.

Social media can be used to play games or otherwise amuse; to stay in touch with distant family and friends. Social medial also have business applications such as marketing products and websites, engaging in conversation with clients or potential clients, networking with fellow professionals to scout for jobs or recruit employees.

Elgin officials have established a reputation for using social media to inform residents of what’s happening and to field complaints and criticisms. Police Chief Jeff Swoboda, for example, used Facebook to announce the arrests of two teenagers four days after the June 7 gang slaying of another youth.

The city was widely praised during the February 2011 blizzard for its use of social media to keep residents informed of conditions during the storm and, later, of progress as crews plowed the city’s streets.


That’s not entirely surprising when you consider the numbers.

Wikipedia lists Facebook with more than 900 million users, Twitter with 500 million, and YouTube as streaming as many as 4 billion videos per day. There also are geotagging apps like foursquare, with 20 million users. The application allows users to post the locations they are visiting to Facebook and Twitter, so their friends know where they are.

But the free flow of personal information and images on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter also is an open invitation for those whose intent is less than honest. For Elgin police, however, social media offer one more tool in their efforts to curb crime.

What the tech?

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