Campus police departments are tuning into social media to connect with their community and prevent crime, USA Today College reports.
Yik Yak lets users share short messages with people in their immediate area anonymously and is increasingly popular on college campuses. Campus police departments have taken notice and are finding ways to monitor social media to enhance student safety.
An investigative tool
Rick Tupper, director of campus safety at Augustana College, says even supposedly anonymous apps can provide valuable information to police. "Yik Yak does cooperate with law enforcement if it looks like an immediate threat, so being anonymous isn’t always necessarily truly anonymous," he says.
However, Tupper says going through formal channels is not always required to gain access to social media information and other electronic communications. "During the investigation, I’ll go to one of the involved parties and ask them if they can provide me copies of whatever tweets or Facebook posts or e-mails—anything that they’ve got that would show part of the investigation," he says.
Marc Lovicott, a public information officer at the University of Wisconsin–Madison agrees that social media is playing a larger role in campus safety, saying it has been "really helpful" in solving a number of campus crimes. "Social media does help us when we’re trying to follow that roadmap of a crime to figure out what happened when and who was involved," he says.
Connecting with students
Augustana’s associate director of campus life, Whitney Brown, notes that the school has expanded its monitoring of social media in part as a response to the 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act. The law mandates that schools notify on-campus students when a student has been missing for 24 hours. The idea, Brown says, is to use social media "immediately as a way to find information out about a student."
Campus officials are not only collecting information on social media, they are using it as a conduit to connect with students. Tupper says the question is "how do we communicate and make sure that if there is something going on—number one—that we are in the loop" (Raposa, USA Today College, 1/13).
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