Is social media mining the modern “stop and frisk” for the police?

Published on
May 10, 2023

A “stop and frisk” refers to the (often controversial, sometimes illegal) practice the police have in certain areas of temporarily detaining pedestrians and patting them down for illegal drugs, weapons or other evidence of criminal activity. Like everything else these days, police investigations have moved online: Now, officers may search through your social media instead of your jacket pockets.

Yes, the police are watching you

If you’ve ever joked about the police looking at your Instagram feed -- quit joking. They probably are. Several police departments admit that they regularly comb through public social media posts to look for signs of criminal activity. They also use increasingly sophisticated facial recognition algorithms to look for known offenders, so if you’ve already got a mugshot on file somewhere, you can just about bet that your social media has been watched. You can do some things to protect your privacy against police intrusion, like making your profile “private” and turning off your location sharing. However, you can still end up on the official social media radar just by being tagged in someone else’s photos. Naturally, of course, you don’t want to post anything that could be construed as illegal activity online. It’s never wise to talk about drugs or large amounts of money online since that could set you up as a target for both the authorities and criminals alike (even if you’re just posing or joking).Every day, the news carries another story about someone who couldn’t resist posting about their activity on social media, usually in the belief that the internet is so big that nobody will really notice. They will -- and you can be charged with a crime as a result.

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