Twitter is one of the fastest growing ways that people communicate. It is considered a micro-social media platform due to its 160 character limit, but it can provide macro benefits in investigations for law enforcement.
In my experience, I have witnessed Twitter users “tweeting” in real time about incidents, i.e. shootings, homicides, gang related, etc. directly from the scene. One of the tactics we as investigators used in the past was to put an undercover in the crowd to catch the conversation. Now, in addition, investigators can track that conversation with a mobile phone or mobile laptop. The best part of it is that no screen name or user profile is necessary to search conversations on Twitter.
The search is rather simple and not time consuming at all. It can also be used after the initial phases of the investigation as well. Here is what you do:
Go to http://www.Twitter.com
In the Search Box, first type # (Shift 3 – this is how Twitter finds your word/phrase) and then the street name, victim’s name, town, etc – without spaces. For example, you have shooting in front of 123 ABC Street. Type #ABCstreetanytown, or #ABCstreet. Any tweets that have those words in it will show up in your search. If you are really lucky, a tweeter might use an application called http://twitpic.com which allows the user to attach photos to their tweet.
If you find something that is of particular interest, you can write down the Twitter user’s screen name-their name maybe displayed if they chose to use it. If not, a warrant will be necessary to obtain registration information. Also, if your Department has an undercover account, you can view all of the people that “follow” the person’s tweets, which may provide other pieces to the puzzle.
Investigators should give it a try because you are certainly not going to lose anything by doing so.