Police Search For Mugger For 3 Weeks, Internet Finds Him In An Hour (Techdirt)
Monday April 15th, 2013
We've discussed before the ways law enforcement groups use social media. Frankly, the general theme tends to be that they aren't very good at internetting. Whether it's mocking invasive vaginal searches or catfishing music fans with well-tread tropes, it seems the wider internet plays the web game better than the LEOs. All the while, you occasionally will hear someone in law enforcement decrying how awful the internet is and even sometimes attempting to shut down certain sites. Yet, despite being so under-appreciated, the wider internet sure does love to show how good they are at catching suspected criminals.
That capability was on full display in the case of a mugging in New York City, where police had been searching for a suspect for three weeks before "deputizing" the internet, which identified him in an hour. Within an hour of Gawker posting the video of the crime on the site, a helpful commenter linked to a Facebook page that appeared to show the suspect wearing the same clothes in photos taken mere hours prior to the crime.
The link led to the Facebook page of 21-year-old Aidan Folan, who had photos of him taken hours before the robbery. According to Gawker, the photos revealed the same sweatshirt the mugger wore in the video — with large fraternity letters on front. Commenters on the New York's Daily Intelligencer site, which also posted the video, also linked back to Folan.
Folan has since been arrested and charged with robbery and assault. Internet 1, stupid frat boy crimes 0. But the larger point is that, far from the crime-inducing cesspool claimed by some LEOs, the internet is a tool they should be using. Many LEOs recognize that, utilizing social media to put together suspect timelines, but the aggregate of the public internet is also a tool to catch violent criminals.
Social media acts as a timeline of people's lives — accounts of their activities. And now they are playing significant roles in helping to solve crimes — most notably exposing the Steubenville rape case back in January. It's worth noting that there's a difference between having the public help law enforcement find suspects and LEOs keeping watch over social media. The lesson here is that the it's not all or nothing with law enforcement and the internet. You can get the help you need without invading the public's lives.