Should Law Enforcement Start Acting More Forcefully On Social Media Threats?


In December of last year, two cops were ruthlessly murdered by a man who was seriously deranged. Their names were officer Liu and officer Ramos. They were true heroes. The killer actually posted a picture of a gun on Instagram and detailed vividly that he planned on committing an act of violence towards the cops. This has sparked an interesting discussion that I would like to delve into; the question is “How should law enforcement handle social media posts?”

If you turn on the television or go on any of the various political websites such as Fox News, you will hear the political pundits give their opinions on how this issue should be dealt with. The problem with this is that these “experts” probably don’t even have an Instagram account. Try to picture in your mind the image of Charles Krauthammer taking a selfie. Yes, I just wrote the first sentence in internet history with those two words in it! With the conversation being dominated by people who know nothing about social media, I thought it’d bring a fresh breadth of air to the conversation if I gave my perspective since I am a 21 year old who actually uses Instagram.

I think the problem with current argument that is occurring is that it is portrayed as a black and white issue. When I say this, I am referring to the fact that pundits describe the issue as if it is obvious that we should use any means necessary to track criminals and that we should take every post very seriously. Clearly we all want to stop and prevent as much crime as possible. This motive must be balanced with the need for privacy and the necessary ability to not over react to a silly, misguided picture or tweet.

The image of capturing a criminal before he/she is able to do something heinous is the picture that pundits are giving viewers. Let me give you situation that looks at it differently. Say for instance a 14 year old girl tweets that she is “literally dying” and all of a sudden the cops show up at her house only to find her watching Tyler Oakley. This is a huge problem. The grey areas with social media posts can be hard to truly figure out. Sometimes people aren’t serious when they post something. No one wants to live in a world where one slip up on your iPhone while you are drunk can land you in prison. Although some people may rather go to jail than have to read what they sent their ex last night! My point is that I think caution is warranted before analyzing social media becomes part of the repertoire of law enforcement. Prudence must be used before swift action is taken.

Maybe I am being naïve when I think that law enforcement isn’t already monitoring our posts on Instagram. This brings me to another point. Privacy issues are paramount to any discussion about the government using the internet to fight crime. Some of you may be saying to yourself that you have nothing to hide, so who cares if the government monitors your social media. This is a ridiculous argument because your privacy is a right that should never be given up or taken by any government. The way I view the government is through a prism where I ask the question: “If the government became malicious, could it use this power to hurt me?” Another clarification must be made in this discussion; it is important to distinguish between public and private posts. If you post a descriptive violent rant on Facebook and it gets reported to the authorities, then it definitely should be able to look up the past things you have posted because Facebook is a public forum.

This argument needs to be balanced out with the fact that the government has no right to track your private messages, emails, and texts. This is the problem that we face today; the government does spy on us and does read our emails. This becomes a big problem when a 16 year old boy sends a text to his friend jokingly saying that he wants to kill his teacher and then all of a sudden he is charged with a crime. If the government has information on everything you ever done on the internet, it can easily form a case that makes you look like a crazy person even if you aren’t one. This is a scary thought because if a government becomes malicious and you do something that irks it, it can use your Google search history to charge you with a potential crime that you never intended to commit.

These situations may be assumed to be farfetched and unlikely, but the fact remains that very scary results can happen if the government oversteps its boundaries when it comes to monitoring internet usage to fight crime. This is why we must have this discussion; it is not a simple issue that is portrayed by the media. This is complex. We must decide how much control the government has over us and then elect the proper officials that adhere to our values and principles.

featured image – Instagram Screenshot