Social Media for Police

Social Media for Law Enforcement

Social Media and policing in the real world

I started my policing career with the idea that everything I would do in the future would be centered on community policing in the real world. Shortly after I started, I realized that the future was going to be different and that the real world would be blended to a certain extent with the online world. This realization came true and I eventually ended up doing a number of talks on using social media in policing over the past several years. 

I also have a great interest in crime analysis, technology and futures thinking. This has led me to analyze things from tactical and strategic perspectives to support the policing mission, to anticipate how technologies might be used today and in the future and thinking about possible futures and how we can try to make better futures happen.

What about social media investigations? I’m not as interested in investigations as I am in building stronger communities and working with the community to stop crimes and problems – ideally before they even happen. Investigations are usually pretty straightforward and involve identifying a crime or a nexus to a crime that has already happened, identifying online accounts and the actual people associated with those accounts, preserving information and obtaining information that can be used in court. This is all great but my outlook is more like an officer assigned to a community policing beat and all of the people in an agency that support that officer. 

Despite all of our advances in technology, the police mission is largely the same as when Sir Robert Peel and/or his assistants laid out the 9 Principles of Policing in 1829. Those 9 principles are really all about maintaining the absence of crime and disorder in a way that is supported by the community. Preventing crime and disorder in the real world involves knowing the community, listening to what is happening and then working with the community to keep bad things from happening. Doing this online involves knowing the communities, listening to what is happening and then working with communities to keep bad things from happening. While it seems infinitely more complex online, it really isn’t. Bruce Lee said that before he studied martial arts he thought a punch was just a punch and a kick was just a kick. As he went through training he thought there was much more to it. As he mastered martial arts and became one of the most knowledgeable people in the world on the topic he understood that a punch is just a punch and a kick is just a kick. Good policing online is just like good policing. 

Keeping all of this in mind along with the fact that most police agencies don’t have unlimited resources, here are some tools and information that can help.

Training and Information

For more on Social Media for Policing see the IACP Center for Social Media:

Developing a Policy on Social Media Use for Intelligence gathering ––Guidance-and-Recommendations-

Latest studies and stats on social media usage –


You need this training before you start saving information about people you see online – 28 CFR 23 Training:

To find LE Contact Information for all of the major ISP’s try Search –

Legal Stuff including HIPAA, FERPA, FOIA, MA Public Records and Policy Guidelines can be found on the NESMO (Northeast Social Media Officers) website

Canadian Law – PIPEDA – The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act

Exceptions to PIPEDA –



For real-time monitoring Tweetdeck is a great tool. You can set up as many columns as you like with a number of search terms focusing on specific words, locations or even excluding certain terms.

Amit Agarwal has a good article on his site about Twitter search operators and these should work in Tweetdeck:

You can search for terms that people use when something bad happens along with search operators like “or” to get the best results. You can use profanity as a search term because when something crazy happens people will say things like, “Wholly Sh*t” or they will use the F word – remember you need to type these words out completely.

Checking User Names

Know ‘em –

Name Check –


Google Alerts (Web sites) –

Warble Alerts (Twitter) –

Talkwalker Alerts (Blogs, Web, Social) –

Social Searcher , Social Buzz –

EULA’s and Short Links

What does that End User License Agreement Mean? –

Don’t click that shortened link until you check it! –

URL X-Ray – –

People Search Tools

Facebook Stalking – These sites no longer work as Facebook has changed the ability to search their site 🙁


Try some Google searches for groups by pasting this into the search bar: inurl: AND intext:”Follow this link to join my WhatsApp group” or try: site: AND intitle:”WhatsApp Group Invite”


Twitter maps:

Nearby Tweets:

Facebook Live Video Map (Change to your lat and long): (Location doesn’t work anymore),-71.192832947,3z

Periscope Live Map (This doesn’t seem to work now and redirects you to a spammy browser add-on):,-16.141899999999964&zoom=3

SnapChat Snap Map,-79.052900,12.00z

Photos map:,0.000000,2,/

For topics: (Social Mention is down)

Visualizing Twitter Conversations:

Treeverse Extension for Chrome –

For hashtags:

What is that Hashtags Definition?

If you focus on a Twitter user or users:

Lots of Twitter tools:

Get notified when a Twitter account you follow is changed:

When does that Twitter user sleep?:

How does that Twitter user feel?

Is that a bot?!/

You can archive tweets from an event in a Google sheet using this tool. If nothing bad happens I would delete everything after a few days:

Download video:

Download video subtitles:

Check if a photo is a fake:

Compare 2 photos side by side with Juxtapose

Go back in time and see older versions of a website on the Wayback Machine:

Generate a Visual Map of website:

Follow a website and get notified when changes are made:

Make images for your social sites


Building fake profiles for investigations:

Sometimes you need to create fake profiles in order to conduct investigations or you may need to identify a profile as being fake. In the past investigators would use pictures they found online but the danger in doing this was that you could do harm to real people. Do not create fake profiles unless you have a policy that allows you to do so. As we have discussed, it is legal if being done properly for a law enforcement investigation. 

Supervisors should also be aware of what you are doing with fake profiles. This is an area where you need to be very careful in regards to the privacy of others and creating a fake profile with these tools is the best way to make sure you don’t harm any real people.

Non-Linear Hybrid Warfare?

This is an article I wrote for PoliceOne, “Why LE needs to prepare for the disinformation era” on behalf of Police Futurists International:

If you really want to get into Russian Military Concepts and how they look at using information you can check out this document from Mitre –

Fighting False Information

Disinformation and misinformation is going to be a major challenge to police forces in the near and distant future. We need to be well-versed in disinformation techniques used by bad actors and verification techniques that can be used by good actors if we are going to survive. A primary way to fight disinformation is to be well versed in verification techniques. Quickly determining whether a social media post, picture, video or story is real or fake is critical in being able to react properly. False stories spread via social media have led to real-life mass panic, mass confusion, riots and even multiple murders. Public safety and emergency management agencies cannot afford to let harmful false information go unanswered.

Verification Handbook

Truly one of the greatest resources that you can find to help you verify whether information spreading online is true or false. These books are written by professional journalists and their advice and techniques are highly applicable to public safety and emergency management agencies.


For Investigative Reporting:

Additional Materials:

Another online version:

Real Time Open Source Analysis – Social Media Resource Guide (ROSA) ––ROSA–Resource-Guide


If you want to see the possibilities and power of using open-source investigative techniques check out Bellingcat. The name Bellingcat was inspired by the phrase, “Belling the cat” which comes from a fable about some mice who put a bell on a cat to warn them of when the cat was approaching. The site is run by citizen journalists and they have done amazing investigations that have identified the Russian agents who poisoned the Skripals in England in 2018 as well as the identities of those involved in the 2014 shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH-17 in Ukraine.

Bellingcat’s Online Investigative Toolkit:

Fact-Checking Sites

Develop a Strategy

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat. – Sun Tzu

You will see this quote in regards to school safety on It reflects the fact that in policing we often do things in a very tactical way. We are constantly, “Putting out fires” rather than thinking of ways to keep the fires or crises from happening in the first place. We are always very well prepared for the last crisis or the last tactic used by the bad guys and seldom ready for the next crisis or the problems that we will be facing in the future.

Police are not in the business of war and contrary to what some people think we can’t realistically run our agencies like a business. However, we can learn a lot from the military and from the private sector. In putting together a strategy to fight misinformation and disinformation we should look to the classic, Sun Tzu, The Art of War and to recent adaptations. Sun Tzu, The Art of War for Managers is one of many good books worth reading. If you look at six of the Principles from some of the business-focused modern texts you can apply these to developing a strategy.

  1. Win without fighting – In other words, don’t try to argue or “fight” with your adversaries. It may feel good to call these people names but that hurts your credibility and your chances of victory.
  2. Avoid Strength, Attack Weakness – Go after the weak parts of people’s stories. If you can make it clear that a part of a story is completely false it brings the credibility of the rest of the story into question.
  3. Foreknowledge – You need to be well-versed in disinformation and the tactics and strategies being employed by bad actors. You also want to know what false stories and rumors are circulating in the larger world before they come to you locally. 
  4. Speed and Preparation – Misinformation and Disinformation spread faster than viruses and people tend to believe the information that they see or hear first. Be prepared for, and have a plan for when your agency or your community is being attacked.
  5. Shaping the Opponent – Think about how you can influence others to help debunk false information and spread reliable information. This is how you can strategically keep bad actors from gaining momentum.
  6. Character Based Leadership – The only thing you truly have is your character and if you don’t have this it is time for you to get another job. It takes years to build up trust within any community but this can all be destroyed in seconds. Never-ever let anyone in your agency damage this because it is your most powerful weapon against mis- and dis- information. Police agencies that have a high degree of integrity and openness are far better equipped to lead their communities through the major crises and disasters that can’t be handled by tactics alone.

My contact info at the Burlington Massachusetts Police Department:

If you want more free resources –

If you need training or consulting services that I can’t provide for free:

Older stuff:

This is just an outline of my class notes. The important information is in the links:

A lot of police departments fear social media. I can tell you right now that this is something police departments need to be very familiar with and that they need to have a presence on all of these sites – even if it is to simply claim their name and to make sure nobody else is pretending to be them.

Generally, the most important things you need to know are:

1. The rules for police on the internet are generally the same as the rules for the police in real life. Your conduct has to follow all of your existing department policies. You can have officers online in a visible way, like a uniformed officer and you can have officers using websites undercover, just as you use plain-clothes officers in real life.

2. You need to know exactly what your public information laws say you can and can’t post online – you should already have policies regarding the release of public information. Ignore the words “media”, “reporter” and “newspaper” and replace them with “website”, “Facebook Page”, “Twitter”, etc…

3. Do your research – there are a lot of free resources online

Social Media for Law Enforcement

Course Outline – 04/14/2011

Middlesex Community College / Northeastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council / Massachusetts Association of Crime Analysts

Lieutenant Glen Mills – Burlington Police Department, President – Massachusetts Association of Crime Analysts

Social Media Basics

What is Social Networking?

History of Social Networks


Social Media by the Numbers

Why is it important to us?

Social Media Usage

Intelligence Gathering – Passive and Active

Undercover Operations


Public Interaction

Emergency Notifications


Personal and Business Use

Creating Accounts

A discussion of Web Browsers –Firefox is Highly Recommended

Setting up an E-Mail Account – Gmail is Recommended

Protecting Your Good Name using

Setting up Facebook Profiles

Setting up Twitter Accounts

Setting up YouTube Accounts

The First Commandment

Never, ever, use your own personal accounts

Intelligence Gathering

Passive (Open Source)

Active (Working Undercover)

Visualizers – Myspace, Facebook and YouTube

Undercover Work

Legal Issues

Ethical Issues


Real World / Cyber World

Legal Issues


Legal Issues

Networking with other agencies

Routine Communications

Emergency Communications

Active Two-Way Interaction

Anonymous Tips

Integrating Your Presence Across Networks

Personal Use

Police Officers probably shouldn’t have personal profiles – If officers have profiles they should understand the risks to their careers, their safety, and to their families

Legal Issues

Disciplinary Issues

Profile Privacy

Exif (Exchangeable Image File) Data

“Checking In”

Instructor Contact Information:

Lieutenant Glen Mills – Burlington, Massachusetts Police Department /

781-505-4945 /

Resources: – A variety of Free Resources and Tools– Masspolice – Free Resources and Tools for Massachusetts Officers / Massachusetts Sample Search Warrant Templates are located in the “Files” section – Tools and Resources for Investigating High Tech Crimes – Training in High-Tech Investigations / ISP List – Social Network Search Tool – TLO is a Public Records Search on Steroids – Free for Law Enforcement – IACP Guide to Using Social Media – Christa Millers Blog on Social Media for Law Enforcement – Laurie Stevens Blog on Social Media for Law Enforcement – WordPress – Easy and Flexible Blog, Website Builder and Content Management System – Dashboard to Manage Multiple Social Networks – Dashboard to Manage Multiple Social Networks