#Crimesolving: A New Use For Social Media

ByBrent Stirling

Joshua Kaufman, a software designer in Oakland, Calif., used some of the latest technology paired with social media in order to turn his misfortune around.

On March 21, Kaufman’s MacBook was stolen from his apartment. That same day he reported the crime to the police, but then very little happened. After nearly two months passed with no response from the Oakland Police Department, Kaufman said he had become frustrated, “and thought I should try and get some attention from the media.” 

In an attempt to get attention, he did not call up his local paper, but instead turned to Twitter. This is occurring more and more in modern-day society. Social media is no longer being used by people to update their friends on the monotony of everyday life, but is used instead to spread news, ideas, and worthy causes. Websites like Facebook and Twitter are now considered large media outlets, controlled by the masses in order to empower the individual. 

While social media does have downsides, the positives largely outweigh the negatives in the world of crime fighting and accurate journalism. Local journalists have taken a backseat when it comes to raising awareness about local stories like Kaufman’s and, in some cases, they do not pressure larger institutions.

Kaufman used Hidden, an app that emailed him not only the location of his missing laptop, but photos of the thief taken with the computer’s built-in camera and screenshots of what he was doing. Pictures show the thief, staring blankly at the MacBook, falling asleep while watching YouTube videos and surfing the web in bed. One particular screenshot gave Kaufman the suspect’s email and a quick Google search turned up a cab company in nearby Berkeley, California. He presented this evidence to an investigator and even followed up with two emails, but received no response. Taking the issue into his own hands, he set up a Tumblr account, aptly titled, thisguyhasmymacbook.tumblr.com. It didn’t receive much attention until he employed his Twitter followers on May 31.

Kaufman’s tweet, “My MacBook was stolen. I haven’t been able to get it back, so I thought I’d post some photos of the guy who has it: thisguyhasmymacbook.tumblr.com” was retweeted thousands of times. Large media outlets took notice and Good Morning America made a call to the Oakland Police Department regarding his case. Just seven hours after his original tweet, an officer from the Oakland police was in touch with Kaufman. Three hours after that, he tweeted that the thief had been arrested. It took the Twitter community a mere 10 hours to achieve what in two months Kaufman had not been able to do, even with overwhelming evidence. When questioned later, the Oakland police blamed their slow response on a lack of resources; only three investigators for nearly 2,400 reports of theft a month.

When using something that is policed and driven by the masses, one cannot help but hope that the positives of social media heavily outweigh the negatives. Twitter and Facebook, while still allowing people to connect and interact with friends or celebrities online, are quickly becoming tools for everyday people to promote causes and stories that require attention. Most crime fighters have taken notice and used social media as an aid in solving crimes. Stories like Kaufman’s prove that status updates and tweets about how your Starbucks coffee tastes are slowly going the way of the buffalo. These updates are being replaced by links to articles and the sharing of knowledge, news, and views that empower the individual. In an age when you can connect to the other side of the world with the press of a button, all I can say is it’s about time.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons