Public Security Blog
How Social Media Analytics Can Help Win the Battle for Public Security
The riots of August 2011 have acted as a wake-up call to the police in terms of the way they use social media. It hasbeen widely acknowledged that gangs of rioters successfully used social media and other forms of digital communication, such as BlackBerry Messenger, to plan and coordinate widespread looting and street crime.
The police struggled to keep track of messages or deploy the resources necessary to capture them as evidence – and they didn’t use social media as proactively as they could to communicate, to counter false rumours and provide accurate information to worried citizens as the disorder spread.
There are now encouraging signs that lessons have been learned and police are increasingly looking at social media as an opportunity not a threat. Rather than considering draconian interventions that stop access to social media channels, as they did in the recent riots, the police are starting to tap into social media as part of the solution.
We are starting to see evidence of forces using social media to engage more closely with the public. South Yorkshire Police recently used Facebook and Twitter on Blackberrys to engage with protestors and calm tensions at a public sector pensions strike, while to forge closer community links,Sussex Police is using social media platforms to tell the stories of twelve members of staff over a twelve month period.
Social media also has a key role to play in tracking criminal suspects, preventing and solving crime and bringing fast-moving incidents like the riots or, potentially, terrorist events, quickly under control – and the police are being proactive here too, with plans recently announced to step up monitoring Twitter ahead of the Olympics.
In all these cases, social media analytics technology can play a key role in providing a solution.Solutions are increasingly coming on stream that offer law enforcement agencies the ability to continuously monitor online and social conversation data; to identify key topics and to enable professionals to focus in on relevant content areas without wasting time sifting through information that ultimately proves immaterial.
Monitoring public conversations across social media requires heavy lifting from text analytics tools, and therefore understanding the technical aspects of text analytics should be a necessity for modern Public Security professionals. Unfortunately it currently is not - in fact the concept of text analytics is often understoodlittle more than the collation of open source data.
SAS Text Analytics addresses this issue not just through gathering data and text, but also by enabling investigators to pore through huge amounts of social media data to uncover patterns and analyse content. Social media analytics can continuously monitor online and social conversation data to identify important topics and content categories to enable professionals to focus in on the content areas they are interested in. Crucially it can automatically extract ‘entities’ – people, places, locations (information that is increasingly being provided by a more ‘engaged’ public) and build links to understand the inter relationships as well as the context.
Critically too, by assessing and monitoring the ‘sentiment’ of text it is possible to flag a change of attitudes, that may express that a target individual or group are potentially moving from words to action. The key is enabling the technology to do the monitoring, thereby freeing resources to intervenewhen an increased threat is identified.
These types of capabilities will enable professionals to filter out all the ‘noise’ within social media and focus on the data – whether public provided or police sourced - that could provide valuable intelligence, helping to anticipate and prevent crime and keep Britain’s streets safer in the run-up to the Olympics and beyond.