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New tools turn social media into evidence collection

A new technology scans sites like Twitter to act as a virtual stakeout, alerting police when possibly gang activity is occurring

By Martin Kaste

Social media monitoring started in the world of marketing, allowing companies to track what people were saying about their brands. But now, with software that allows users to scan huge volumes of public postings on social media, police are starting to embrace it as well. In the U.S., a company called BrightPlanet sells a product that is more explicitly marketed as an investigative tool.

"If you had 1,500 gang members, like we do in Detroit — we have their handles, so we're able to identify what the gang members are doing," says BrightPlanet Vice President Tyson Johnson.

The tool, called BlueJay, is capable of scanning the entire "fire hose" of tweets, he says — far more than is available to search from the Twitter Web page. It can be configured to focus on tweets coming from certain places, and it can collect instant photographic evidence from a disturbance.

"If we'd been able to monitor real-time during the Boston Marathon, they'd have an immediate repository to interrogate, as soon as the bombs happened," Johnson says.

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