Social media platforms frequently get a bad rap for their part in issues like privacy breeches and cyberbullying. Police frequently look to interactions on social media when dealing with stolen identities, harmful hoaxes or even public threats. But recently the Philadelphia Police have Twitter to thank for helping them identify and charge three people in an aggravated assault case. Two weeks ago, a gay couple was violently attacked by a group of 10 to 12 people in what many are calling a hate crime. The victims both suffered serious facial injuries and claim they were targeted because of their sexual orientation.
Police originally released surveillance footage of the assailants in an effort to inform the public. A Twitter user named Greg Bennett posted a photo of a large group of people at an unknown restaurant who looked similarly to those in the surveillance video. That initial post was retweeted by user FanSince09 who received responses from his followers identifying the restaurant. FanSince09 then took to a different social media platform, Facebook. He reviewed the Facebook accounts who had “checked in” at the restaurant and was soon able to identify many of the people in the photo, which he reported to police.
Philadelphia Police Officer Joe Murray tweeted, “This is what makes my job easy. Sure, it’s up to me to make the arrest but we are all in this together.” Three people have surrendered to police and are being charged with aggravated assault, criminal conspiracy, simple assault and recklessly endangering another person.
The amazing thing about social media is that it connects millions of users over cultural and geographic boundaries, making its uses for good inconceivably infinite. So what does this mean for the future of social media? Will it mean the beginning of Twitter vigilantes? Not likely. Could it start a trend of crowdsourcing investigations? Possibly. It all depends on its users to step up and take action.