Nearly three-quarters of American adults are active on at least one social media platform, producing troves of detailed data about their personal, political, and religious beliefs and associations. Law enforcement’s use of this data is widespread. Some police departments use software designed to monitor large numbers of users. Police also use social media to track individuals or organizations and use undercover accounts to connect with unsuspecting users.
While the exact number of police departments engaging in social media monitoring is unknown, media reports suggest that many use social media in some capacity. This poses risks to privacy and free expression, increases disproportionate surveillance of communities of color, and can lead to arrests of people on the basis of misinterpreted posts and associations. And very few police departments that use social media monitoring tools have made public the policies governing their use, heightening the danger of misuse and abuse.