NEAL CONAN, HOST:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington. Last Friday evening the Boston Police Department tweeted the news that the city and the nation had been waiting for. Captured. The hunt is over. The search is done. The terror is over and justice has won. Suspect in custody.
Over the course of that long week, police and other law enforcement agencies also used tweets to correct misinformation that spread on Twitter and other media. Once suspects had been identified, their Twitter and Facebook accounts became part of the investigation, even an Amazon wish list.
It's hardly the first time law enforcement has used social media, but it may have been the most watched. So if you work in law enforcement, how do you use social media? What are the pluses and minuses? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com. And yeah, we're on Twitter, talk - TALK OF THE NATION - talk - what's our Twitter account? Talk - @totn, that's what it is. I'll get there sooner or later, @totn.
Later in the program, who is your Superman as the Man of Steel turns 75? Email us with the incarnation that speaks to you. The address is firstname.lastname@example.org. But first, Twitter and law enforcement. And of course we begin in Boston, as it happened. Lauri Stevens joins us from our member station there, WBUR. She trains law enforcement on social media. She's the founder of LAwS Communications. It's nice to have you on the program today.
LAURI STEVENS: Thank you, Neal, glad to be here.
CONAN: And let's start with public information. Is Twitter now the medium of choice for what used to be called a press release?
STEVENS: Oh, I say if it isn't, it's sure going that way. You know, more people are checking Twitter. I know I myself, when I want to know what's going on, I don't turn on the television anymore. I look at Twitter. And certainly people did during the bombings.
CONAN: And interesting that the arrest was announced on Twitter.
STEVENS: Absolutely, but not such a surprise given that it's Boston police. They are - they're not new to social media, and they did a, you know, really great job of keeping the public informed during that entire week.
CONAN: And keeping the public informed via Twitter on the assumption that everybody else in the media was looking at their Twitter account too.
STEVENS: Oh sure, that's what happens. I mean this is how law enforcement does what I like to call controlling the virtual scene. You know, whenever anything happens, law enforcement is involved, a shooting, in this case a bombing, a protest, the earlier law enforcement can get out there and be part of the conversation and put out its messages of public safety, the better they're going to be at making sure things like what happened, you know, the things that are tweeted by others that are untrue or the rumors, can be put to rest, and the truth is put out there.
CONAN: This requires an agility that police departments are not often credited with.
STEVENS: Oh yes, it does. The police departments aren't known for agility for sure. They - you know, I've heard it said police departments hate two things, or cops hate two things: change and the way things are.
STEVENS: And that's certainly true, I think. But, you know, we're turning the curve on that, and Boston police did a great job of leading the way. I think - you know, having said that, I think the Boston police could be doing a whole lot more with social media. But they were - did an exemplary job of, you know, getting the messages out there in a time of crisis, when people really needed to get them.
CONAN: So can you give us an example of something you thought worked pretty well?
STEVENS: In the case of last week? Oh, I mean, I think that, you know, when people were tweeting that an arrest had been made, an arrest hadn't been made. Or I think especially issues of officer safety, the Boston police were out there asking the media not to be broadcasting their location.
They were also trying to send out messages - they were sending out messages to people to not be broadcasting everything that's on their scanners. And I think that that - you know, people understood that they were part of it, and I think many, many people understood that they needed to dial it back too, and definitely played a part in doing that. Everybody wanted to cooperate. Everybody wanted to see those guys caught, and everybody did what they could to do that, and much to the great leadership of the Boston police.
CONAN: Now, we've seen other occasions where police and social media have not mixed well.
STEVENS: Oh sure, I have lost count.
CONAN: Well, perhaps the Dornan manhunt outside of Los Angeles just last month.
STEVENS: Right, and that - you know, but I can tell you, you know, those officers out there, I don't know - I don't have intimate knowledge of, you know, what they were doing, but I can tell you what they were doing was monitoring and gaining a lot of intelligence. Were they engaging? Not so much. But they are very sophisticated as well out on the West Coast in the L.A. area.
CONAN: They also told reporters to stop tweeting.
STEVENS: Yeah, well, good luck with that. And that's - you know, that's never a good idea. We saw that in the Olympics, you know, in London. Some of the authorities there wanted to turn off Twitter. Well, you know, that's not going to happen. And of course the best thing to do is to use it to your advantage and be proactive and strategic about it.
CONAN: There was also the case in San Francisco where after - worried that people would be gathering on subway platforms as part of a protest, police shut down Twitter.
STEVENS: Yeah, they - well, they shut down the cell phone system. And - but, you know, that's a tough call. And I actually have met the officer that made that call, and he insists he'd do it again for public safety. And who wants to be an armchair quarterback on that? My best bet is with the law enforcement officers.
CONAN: Well, joining us now by phone from Cincinnati is Dawn Keating, a police specialist with the Real Time Crimes Center Intelligence Unit at the Cincinnati Police Department. Good of you to be with us today.
DAWN KEATING: Good afternoon, sir.
CONAN: And can you tell us about a recent investigation where you used social media to find a suspect?
KEATING: We've had actually multiple incidents. One big thing is we've had rape cases and burglaries where people were meeting each other via Facebook and became familiar with each other just through chats on the Internet. And when they would meet up with these individuals, the victim would then be either unfortunately a victim of a rape or robbery, and we were able to backtrack it through that.
CONAN: So find out the identification of a suspect through their Facebook or Twitter account?
KEATING: Yes, sir.
CONAN: And are police allowed to walk a virtual beat to try to stop these things before they happen?
KEATING: Yes, sir. It's no different than you getting onto the Internet today and logging into Facebook or Twitter or any of the hundreds of other social media sites out there and viewing what's out there.
CONAN: So there are police officers in Cincinnati even as we speak trolling Twitter?
KEATING: Yes, sir, we do the best we can here at the Real Time Crimes Center with monitoring all the different situations, especially if we have large events coming into Cincinnati or certain crimes that are occurring; we will take to the Internet.
CONAN: And I wonder, do people contact you with concerns about, well, feeling that they're being, you know, watched by Big Brother?
KEATING: We've had a few concerns, citizens that thought that, and I would sit down with them or another individual from our unit and explained to them really what we do, that it is no different than them going onto Google and doing a search. We've been able - very successful in using social media also to show that somebody was innocent in a crime.
CONAN: And give us an example of that.
KEATING: We've had individuals that were fraudulently taking money by checks in the downtown business area on multiple occasions, and the investigator contacted us and asked us to check the social media. We had the names and locations. Well, we were able to track the supposed suspect that was actually in Atlanta at the time that the crimes were happening.
CONAN: So in that case it proved to be - well, investigations you tend to think of incriminating people, but obviously there's the other way too.
KEATING: Correct. In this case we were able to prove the person was innocent, and not what they were being blamed of.
CONAN: And do you keep track of court cases? I know there was a recent case in which the courts ruled that effectively Twitter was a public space, there's no expectation of privacy.
KEATING: Yes, sir. I try to monitor the court cases as close as I can to keep on that for court purposes and the investigations.
CONAN: And how do you think this is going to be changing over the weeks and months and years to come?
KEATING: I think it's the types of cases that are going to come to the court's attention. It'll have to be a case-by-case judgment on the individuals.
CONAN: Well, that's in terms of the courts. What about the police department? What are you anticipating?
KEATING: In the five years I've been doing it, I'm seeing an increase of law enforcement showing an interest and using it as - it was stated earlier that police officers don't change. We are very reluctant to change, especially when it comes to computers and technology, because most officers want to be out chasing the bad guys and don't want to be behind the computer looking at things.
But we're seeing a lot of officers becoming proactive with that and wanting to learn the proper way of vetting the information properly from the Internet.
CONAN: And of course we also know not all the information on the Internet is entirely accurate.
KEATING: Correct, correct. That's why when you see something on the Internet, you can't run with it right away. You have to actually take that information and try to verify it to the best that you can.
CONAN: Lauri Stevens, we were talking earlier about Boston and here with Dawn Keating from Cincinnati. As you look at those departments, obviously they have resources that a lot of smaller police departments don't have.
STEVENS: Absolutely. But I see some really good work being done by the small departments as well, especially when it comes to community engagement. There are many, many departments doing an outstanding job of really just in their day-to-day lives, officers tweeting or posting on Facebook just what they're doing, the kinds of work that they're doing and interacting with citizens and really building relationships.
So, you know, when something bad happens in their town, they're going to have the support of those citizens because they've built those relationships.
CONAN: We'd like to hear from those of you in law enforcement. How are you using social media? We'd also like to hear from those of you in the public. Do you have an example of the police department or law enforcement using social media well or maybe not so well? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com.
And Dawn Keating there in Cincinnati, as you look at the possibilities here, do you consider that this is a force multiplier? Do you gain from using - the officers involved in Internet investigations are well-used?
KEATING: Oh yes, and you're going to see it used more and more. Our officers are - even the beat officers are becoming more familiar with it every day and how to use it to assist them in their daily duties.
CONAN: The beat officers, and are they supervised? Does someone from your department, for example, go back and say, Officer Smith, this was a good idea, maybe you could have done this one a little bit differently?
KEATING: Oh, you know, as an officer you tend to do that with a lot of situations you're in, not just when it comes to social media.
CONAN: And are there - there are also officers who want to have a private life, including social media, and that's not always, that's not always, you know, easy to do.
KEATING: This is true, and we do talk to the officers about, you know, what you post is you may have it marked private, but somebody out there, if you put it in print, and you don't want anybody to know about it, it's probably not a good idea to be posting it.
CONAN: And I just wonder: Do you have a private Facebook account or a Twitter account?
KEATING: Not private, I do not.
CONAN: Thanks very much. I appreciate your time today. Good luck to you.
KEATING: Thank you, sir.
CONAN: Dawn Keating is a police specialist with the Real Time Crimes Center Intelligence Unit in the Cincinnati Police Department. She joined us today by phone from her office there. And Lauri Stevens is still with us, she's a social media strategist for law enforcement.
We'd like to hear from those of you in law enforcement. How do you use social media? And, well, those of you not in law enforcement, do you have an example of the police using it well or maybe not so well? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan. As technology advances and the reach of social media grows, law enforcement has had to try to figure out how to handle it in times of crisis. Just two years ago, it came to a head after a Bay Area Transit officer shot Oscar Grant in a deadly confrontation on a subway platform.
Activists planned a demonstration to protest that shooting, and police, for apparently the first time in the United States' history, shut down mobile Internet and phone service at four stations to interrupt communications and thwart the protest. Their strategy worked: Protests did not materialize. Constitutional scholars cried foul, though, calling it an unlawful suppression of First Amendment speech.
If you work in law enforcement, call, tell us, how do you use social media to do your job? What are the pluses and minuses? Also those of you in the public, do you have an example of police using social media well or not so well? 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com. The email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Lauri Stevens is social media strategist for law enforcement, with us from WBUR, our member station in Boston. And let's go to Brett(ph), and Brett's on the line with us from Waterford, Connecticut.
BRETT: Yes, sir.
CONAN: Go ahead, you're on the line.
BRETT: I'm a lieutenant with the Waterford, Connecticut, police department. We have a Facebook page that we have rolled to a Twitter account and our web page. So it's a single-source entry for us. We, you know, we're a smaller community, about 20,000 people, and our - we have about 2,500 people on our Facebook page.
So for a smaller agency, this is kind of our entry point for - recently had a blizzard, floods, hurricanes, et cetera. We update our page constantly through that let people know what roads are closed, if there's accidents, what areas of town are out of power, et cetera.
CONAN: And when you say they're linked, so that means if you enter something on the Twitter page, it also shows up on Facebook, for example?
BRETT: Vice versa, actually. We use Facebook as our entry point, and we find it easiest to attach photos and do all that. But - and it goes out from there.
CONAN: And is it interactive? Do you have people contacting you with information or, well, comments for that matter?
BRETT: Yeah, constantly, every single day.
CONAN: And anything useful?
BRETT: All the time. We post suspect photos of people that see a lot of our local retail outlets, and, you know, we put their photos up. We went through the FOI Commission to ask if that was OK. They said it was. And we solve the majority of our crimes that we post on Facebook, get solved through public information.
CONAN: FOI, I assume, is freedom of information?
BRETT: Yes, sir.
CONAN: And any concerns about - well again, you're checking with lawyers, effectively?
BRETT: We did. We did it at the start to ensure that we were within, you know, our police rights to do this. We've got some information that, you know, certainly we do not put out to social media, but, you know, anything that - any prominent arrest, press release, anything that we make we put up, and, you know, we're very cognizant of the arrest laws and the freedom of information laws. So we take the arrest photos down after a certain amount of time to ensure that there's no problems with the court process, et cetera.
CONAN: Social media and the news media has had this problem, too. They seem to put pressure on you to do things faster than you might have otherwise done. Have you ever put something on the past and said, you know, in retrospect I wish we hadn't done that quite so quickly?
BRETT: I would say that at the start, we were doing some things that, you know, we were a little leery of. But, you know, with the responses that we've gotten from both the press and the citizenry, it's fantastic. So, you know, you've got to weigh what you want out quickly versus what ramifications there may be down the line for you.
So I can't say that we've put anything out where we've been oh, you know, darn it, we shouldn't have done that, but it doesn't matter - you're always good as your latest post. So I can't say that I'm not going to run into that in the future.
CONAN: Yeah, the same with the news media, too. But thanks very much for the phone call. Good luck to you.
BRETT: Thanks a lot. Have a good day.
CONAN: And Lauri Stevens, I don't know if you're familiar with the Waterford, Connecticut, police department system, but is that an example of something that a smaller force can do?
STEVENS: Oh absolutely, and the key words that the lieutenant said there to me were this is their entry point. And I think, you know, what I see everywhere is every agency goes through a process of comfort and feeling more comfortable with these tools and, you know, how to use them. And I'm sure we'll see Waterford doing, you know, more and more as they, you know, free up some resources.
And hopefully we'll see their officers, you know, representing the department on Twitter and maybe their chief getting in there. And I liken it to email. You know, 15 years ago, I'm sure the chief looked around and wondered who they could trust with an email account. Now - you know, and so it's - to me I think we're going to see more and more of it being incorporated just into the regular day-to-day operations for community outreach especially.
CONAN: Let's see if we can go next to Sean(ph), and Sean's on the line with us from Eugene in Oregon.
SEAN: Hey, how are you doing, Neal?
CONAN: Good, thanks.
SEAN: Great. Hey, I just wanted to say that, you know, a couple of things. One, first, as a police officer, I've been a police officer here for quite a while, and I've seen other officers get in trouble about what they post on their Facebook. And right now I know our department, probably along with a lot of others, is in kind of a gray area between what they have a right to post or, you know, regarding freedom of speech and what is sort of an infringement on how they're portraying their department.
So there's quite a bit of friction right now between where that line can be.
CONAN: When you say friction, what do you mean exactly?
SEAN: Well, you know, some officers feel like they should be able to post anything they want and maybe not speak so highly of the city or where they work. And other - and the department is saying people know you're a police office. You can't be saying certain things and expressing certain - you know, being too disgruntled because people know where you work. So there's really no - I guess there's no question about who they're speaking of.
CONAN: I see, so it's a concern about exposure, too.
SEAN: Yeah, exactly, and just I guess overall making the department look bad and griping and stuff like that. And, you know, our department is trying to figure out where that line is between what they have a right to say and what they shouldn't be saying per our policy, speaking poorly of the department and basically very disparagingly.
CONAN: All right, interesting. Thanks very much, Sean, appreciate it.
SEAN: All right, take care, thank you.
CONAN: So long. Here's an email we have, this from a listeners called W: One important component in the Boston Twitter quote-unquote reporting was info from the police scanner being passed along via tweets. Now there are those using social media to their advantage, force multiplication, and others closing down. Why and what advantages or disadvantages from the point of view? Lauri Stevens, I wonder if you could help us there.
STEVENS: Well, the disadvantage to the police obviously are every move they make is being broadcast out there. And, you know, they're talking about some real intricate details, and they don't necessarily want the world to know exactly where their men are and exactly what they're doing and when they're doing it.
And so I think we've probably going to see something happen in that regard, with regard to encryption or something. I mean, I'm not an expert in that area at all, but I think...
CONAN: So it's encrypted radio.
STEVENS: I think it's a huge officer safety issue.
CONAN: Encrypted radio messages that can...
STEVENS: Something. Again, I don't pretend to have that kind of knowledge, but I think that, you know, not only the success of the operation but officer safety is of paramount importance, and I think that we're going to see a lot of, you know, improvement in that area.
CONAN: Get one more caller in, let's go to Sean(ph), Sean's on the line with us from Portland.
SEAN: Hi, yeah, so I had an interesting experience with social media recently in that I'm an actor and a writer, and I have been attached to a Web series that's shooting in Portland. And as part of our kind of marketing campaign, the Web series has to do with, you know, this kind of false civil war in the United States. And as part of the marketing campaign, I was writing about the tree of liberty being refreshed by the, you know, the sacrifice and blood of patriots and all this and all that.
CONAN: That line from Thomas Jefferson, I think, yes.
SEAN: Correct, correct. And literally an hour after I posted that, the Boston Marathon bombing happened. And it was interesting because after the bombing happened, you know, I was a little concerned, and I thought maybe I should take the post down, but I ended up leaving it up. It was part of a marketing campaign. I didn't think about it.
And literally on Tuesday morning, I got a call from the local FBI field office wanting to know if I had any information regarding the bombing in Boston.
CONAN: Interesting, so this was viewed as suspicious, so somebody was there watching an awful lot of postings.
SEAN: Right, exactly. And, you know, to be honest, I hadn't really thought about - I hadn't really thought about Facebook being used very heavily for something like that. You know, I know it's always the public concern, but, you know, what I don't know is if an acquaintance of mine or a friend of a friend saw that and got concerned and called the FBI, or if the FBI was actually monitoring it.
CONAN: Any idea there, Lauri Stevens, this walking I guess part of the virtual beat?
STEVENS: Oh yeah, my - more than just a guess here, I'm sure that it was being monitored by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. There's tools out there, some that are made specifically for law enforcement to just monitor - in the aggregate, not looking for any one person or, you know, just looking for illegal activity. And I'm sure that there must have been a magic word in that tweet that caught somebody's attention, and they took a look at it.
CONAN: All right. Sean, good luck with the marketing campaign.
SEAN: Thank you.
CONAN: It's interesting, because obviously, the medium is used for so many different things: personal communications, marketing campaigns and, obviously, these police and public information purposes, as well. Here's an email we have from William in Anchorage: As a community patrol member, I've used the following: My Tracks, Glympse, Waze, Evernote. Twitter is fine, but location tracking and multimedia notes describe and define local circumstance. Notes may be inserted in geographic display, location, time and position. In other words, people using GPS, I guess, Lauri Stevens.
STEVENS: I'm not sure I understood all of those platforms that he was mentioning. But if he's speaking about geolocation, certainly, there - by default, your tweets have locations on them. And so if you don't want your latitude and longitude going out with every single tweet, you need to put - in your settings, you need to turn that off. And so that's the other thing, is that there's a - the jury's out on just what percentage of tweets are really - have this data still attached to them.
It's not a huge number, but I think it's in the - the experts I talk to say 20, 25 percent of tweets may have geolocation data on them. And so, you know, law enforcement can use that to prove that somebody was where they were or weren't, but they can also get witnesses that way if they can see, you know, tweets that came, you know, near a time or near in location to where something happened.
CONAN: Well, Lauri Stevens, thanks very much for your time today. Appreciate it.
STEVENS: Thank you very much, Neal.
CONAN: Lauri Stevens is a social media strategist for law enforcement, founder of LAwS Communications. She joined us today from our member station WBUR, in Boston. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. And now to another Twitter-related event. On Tuesday, The Associated Press' Twitter feed was hacked, leading to a tweet that falsely reported two explosions at the White House, one of which injured the president.
Those 140 characters triggered a cascade of effects on Wall Street. Algorithms that read tweets set off automatic trades, causing what's called a flash crash of the market. Heidi Moore is here to talk with us about it. She's The Guardian's U.S. finance and economics editor, and joins us now from our bureau in New York. Good of you to be with us today.
HEIDI MOORE: Glad to be here. Thank you.
CONAN: So what happened after that fake tweet was posted?
MOORE: Well, there are a lot of theories. There are a lot of these flash crashes in the market. Of course, since this is Twitter, it has other names, like the Twitter Skitter, or the hash crash. But a lot of the time, the Dow Jones Industrial Average does respond, and the stock market does respond to what's happening in news, or some algorithm goes wrong and it crashes. So we can only piece what happened a little inexactly. But what people believe happened - one theory, at least - is that this errant tweet went out from The Associated Press' Twitter account, and it said, falsely, that there had been an explosion at the White House, and the president was injured.
This is false. That was not true. And so that tweet went out. It did not go out on The Associated Press' usual service, which goes only to news organizations. So this went out on Twitter, where anyone can read it. And then, 15 seconds later, the market started to crash. You saw the Dow Jones Industrial Average fall 143 points. You saw the S&P 500 fall. There were other market indices that fell. And they would naturally respond to news of, you know, bad news, bombing, explosions, all of that.
So the theory is that what happened is not exactly that the tweet was loaded into some computer and people started - and computers started trading on it. The theory is that one person or a few people saw the tweet, panicked, started selling, and then a lot of these computer programs or algorithms that scan the market for activity saw a lot of people selling, and then added more selling to it. And then that caused the crash.
CONAN: So it became a cascade, or an avalanche.
MOORE: Exactly. But all of that took three minutes. It was back in three minutes.
CONAN: And once the thing was over, the market responded, oh, no problem. But I wonder, in the course of that event, did anybody make or lose a lot of money?
MOORE: Well, you know, off the Dow Jones Industrial Average, they probably lost something like $136 billion, which is real money, even on Wall Street. But the question of whether anyone actually lost money permanently, I think, is not only unanswerable, but is also questionable. I mean, the market rebounded. It's doing fine now. So even if they lose money for a little bit, they certainly got it back.
CONAN: So what's the lesson of this?
MOORE: Well, the lesson of this is that we do have to be careful about computers in the market. At least that's what a lot of people say. The way that a lot of news feeds into the market - as you know, the market is an emotional being. It's not, you know, this - you look at a stock market board, and it has all these red and green numbers, and it looks very official and scientific. But all of those numbers just indicate various emotions, positive and negative emotions about a company or a stock.
So when Twitter goes into the market, all it does is add to that emotion. It adds news to that emotion. So, generally, Wall Street has been depending on Twitter for news since 2009. There's a company called StreamBase that takes tweets and makes them into computer code, and then adds a sentiment analysis - so whether it's positive or negative, usually on the scale of 100. And then all of those numbers and codes are sent to Wall Street trading firms, and they scan those for what's going - you know, what's happening in the world, what's happening in the news.
But a lot of those computers that are programmed by humans, but don't respond right away to human directions can often go amok, can often run amok, as they did here. So a lot of people are saying this is a good example of why we need to look more closely at those computer programs that move billions of dollars and govern how well they read news, and also maybe increase the amount of human intervention between, you know, stock trades and the market, and not just depend on computers to do it all.
CONAN: And briefly, any word on the investigation as to who hacked the AP account and who sent out that false message?
MOORE: Well, the, quote-unquote, "Syrian Electronic Army" has taken credit, and I think right now, several agencies are investigating that claim. But we don't have any other candidates for the time being, as far as I know.
CONAN: The Syrian Electronic Army? Do we know who they are?
MOORE: We don't know who they are, but they have hacked other news accounts on Twitter. Of course, you know, Twitter, you just make up your own password, whether you're a news company or a person. So they've also hacked the BBC and other accounts. And I believe the idea is that they are trying to bring attention to what's happening in Syria.
CONAN: Interesting. OK. Well, thanks very much. And by the way, the emotional state of the market today, apparently pretty good, up 71 points, the Dow Industrial average, at last glance. Heidi Moore, thanks very much for your time.
MOORE: Thank you.
CONAN: Heidi Moore is The Guardian's U. S. finance and economics editor. She joined us from our bureau in New York. Coming up next on TALK OF THE NATION, we're going to be talking with Glen Weldon about his new book, the unauthorized biography of Superman, who turned 75 years old last week - born on Krypton, of course. But which Superman speaks to you? Give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us: email@example.com. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.