Social Media Tools For Law Enforcement

Social media is an essential tool for law enforcement. A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that 65% of adults use social media, and 20% have a profile on at least one site. Most law enforcement agencies use social media to share information about public safety and crime alerts, but there are other ways that social media can be used to improve police operations.

Social Media Tools For Law Enforcement

Social Media Tools For Law Enforcement

The Brennan Center filed public records requests with police departments in Boston, New York City, Los Angeles, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C., seeking information about their use of third-party social media monitoring tools. The resulting documents revealed new information about how these tools are used and the relationships between law enforcement and these third-party vendors.

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Below is information on what we know about each of the companies, including their data sources, the tools’ purported capabilities, and publicly available information about the companies’ public-sector clients, as well as relevant documents acquired through the Brennan Center’s public records requests. We will update this resource if we receive additional relevant documents.

Babel Street
Capab­il­it­ies and Data Sources: Babel Street says that its web-based plat­form, BabelX, can conduct cross-lingual searches for more than 200 languages and auto­mat­ic­ally trans­late posts to English. Babel Street also claims that BabelX can analyze senti­ment in over 50 languages.

Babel Street states that its data sources include:

Over 30 social media plat­forms.
Propri­et­ary third-party and customer data­sets.
Billions of blogs and message boards.

Known Clients: The Los Angeles Police Depart­ment (LAPD) had a demo with Babel Street in May 2016. In its corres­pond­ence with the LAPD, Babel Street stated that it worked with many U.S. law enforce­ment agen­cies and fusion centers.

News stor­ies that include inform­a­tion about Babel Street clients:

The Depart­ment of Home­land Secur­ity reportedly used Babel Street and eval­u­ated its products as part of its System Assess­ment and Valid­a­tion for Emer­gency Respon­ders (SAVER) Program in July 2016.
The FBI.
The Depart­ment of Justice gran­ted Babel Street a $500 million Blanket Purchase Agree­ment in 2019.
The U.S. Milit­ary Oper­a­tions Command.
The Seattle Police Depart­ment held a two-month trial of Babel Street in 2016.

Relev­ant Docu­ments:


Babel Street brochure
Data sources
Digital Stakeout
Capab­il­it­ies & Data Sources: Digital Stakeout advert­ises that it has integ­rated its tools into its Scout product, which uses data from the Inter­net, social media, and the dark web to provide users continu­ous data discov­ery, user-defined alerts, and custom data visu­al­iz­a­tions on its plat­form.

In 2016, Digital Stakeout claimed that its Canvass tool had access to over 550 social network­ing sites in over ten categor­ies. On its website, Digital Stakeout states it collects inform­a­tion from Twit­ter, Reddit, Tumblr, Disqus, and Word­Press.

Known Clients: Digital Stakeout’s clients have included:

The Depart­ment of State.
The Oregon Depart­ment of Justice.

Relev­ant Docu­ments:


Social media sources
Capab­il­it­ies & Data Sources: Skopenow claims that its tools have the capa­city to:

Auto­mat­ic­ally find, extract, and analyze data from social media anonym­ously.
Conduct beha­vi­oral recog­ni­tion analysis through image and text analysis, subject monit­or­ing, and compre­hens­ive search results.
Notify users via auto­mated alerts when there are devel­op­ments in a subject they are track­ing.
Create inter­act­ive visu­al­iz­a­tions by merging loca­tion data from consumer reports, social media posts, and metadata.

Skopenow claims to have access to:

All major social media plat­forms, includ­ing Parler.
Court records through PACER.
Consumer records.
Phone numbers, user­names, email addresses, court records, and any inform­a­tion avail­able online.

Known Clients: The LAPD had a demo with Skopenow in June 2019, and multiple trials between Novem­ber 2018 and July 2020. Accord­ing to corres­pond­ence between the LAPD and a Skopenow repres­ent­at­ive, the company’s public sector clients included:

Broward County, FL
Martin County (state unknown)
Morris­town Police Depart­ment (state unknown)
The U.S. Secret Service
The U.S. Postal Inspec­tion Service

Relev­ant Docu­ments:


Skopenow public sector clients
Skopenow noti­fic­a­tion of new features
Skopenow auto­mated alert
Email about social media invest­ig­a­tions
Capab­il­it­ies & Data Sources: Cobwebs developed a tool, Tangles, which it touts as an all-in-one invest­ig­at­ive plat­form to collect, store, and analyze digital evid­ence. The tool’s purpor­ted capab­il­it­ies include:

Real-time monit­or­ing of posts, geo-loca­tions, keywords, and inter­ac­tions between social media users.
Analysis of senti­ment in targets’ online activ­ity.
Meas­ure­ment of the strength of social media connec­tions.
Predict­ive insights through their AI-powered stat­ist­ical analysis.

Cobwebs claims to source its data from through­out the Inter­net, includ­ing social media and the deep and dark web, but does not name any specific plat­forms or data sources. In Decem­ber 2021, Meta removed about 200 accounts oper­ated by Cobwebs and its custom­ers world­wide. In its invest­ig­a­tion, Meta found that accounts used by Cobwebs’ custom­ers parti­cip­ated in target­ing related to law enforce­ment activ­it­ies, as well as frequent target­ing of activ­ists, oppos­i­tion politi­cians, and govern­ment offi­cials.

Known Clients: Accord­ing to the company, the Hart­ford Police Depart­ment (CT) has used its products.

Relev­ant Docu­ments:


Promo­tional email
Sport­ing Event Use Case
Promo­tional paper
Octo­ber 2020 LAPD proposal
Media Sonar
Capab­il­it­ies & Data Sources: The company claims that its plat­form can compile a full digital snap­shot of an indi­vidu­al’s online pres­ence, includ­ing all related perso­nas and connec­tions, using over 300 data sources and two billion public records.

For more general searches, Media Sonar allows users to create custom alerts to notify them of devel­op­ments in topics of interest across 100,000 data sources on the Inter­net.

Media Sonar claims that its products can cull through these data sources — contain­ing two billion records compiled from public records — as well as “crowd-sourced data” and more, includ­ing:

3,000 news sources.
Social media plat­forms, includ­ing access to Twit­ter (Media Sonar was banned from access­ing Face­book data in 2017).
Reddit, 4chan, 8chan, and “niche blogs and forums.”
Compre­hens­ive access to the Dark Web, includ­ing sources like TOR, i2p, and Tele­gram.

Known Clients: The LAPD purchased Media Sonar licenses using funds from a 2021 UASI grant.

Relev­ant Docu­ments:


Media Sonar present­a­tion for the LAPD
Media Sonar white paper “Untangling the Web”

Capab­il­it­ies & Data Sources: Dataminr is an AI-based plat­form, partly owned by Twit­ter, that is used to monitor and track events and topics using social media posts. The service uses an algorithm to filter through all publicly avail­able posts made on a given day. Datamin­r’s First Alert product provides users with break­ing and urgent news alerts. Dataminr touts that its alerts can surface break­ing news stor­ies before any news source reports on it.

Dataminr has access to:

Social media plat­forms such as TikTok, Snap, and Face­book.
Twit­ter, through its part­ner­ship with the plat­form.
Message boards such as Reddit.

Known Clients: Dataminr conduc­ted a trial with the LAPD from March to May 2016.

Accord­ing to news sources, Datamin­r’s clients have included:

The Joint Regional Intel­li­gence Center (JRIC), the fusion center for South­ern Cali­for­nia
New York Police Depart­ment.
The New York City Emer­gency Manage­ment Depart­ment.
The Chicago Police Depart­ment.
The Louisi­ana State Police.
The FBI.

Relev­ant Docu­ments:


Dataminr promo­tional brochure
Datamin­r’s answers to the LAPD’s ques­tions
Capab­il­it­ies & Data Sources: Snaptrends is a loca­tion-based social media monit­or­ing plat­form that is mostly marketed to compan­ies to meas­ure consumer senti­ment.

Snaptrends claims it has access to:


Known Clients: No public inform­a­tion found.

Relev­ant Docu­ments:

Snaptrends promo­tional email.
Voyager Labs
Capab­il­it­ies & Data Sources: Voyager Labs (Voyager) claims its tools use trace­less collec­tion meth­ods for social media networks, which allow a user to:

Recon­struct closed profiles and closed Face­book groups based on publicly avail­able inform­a­tion.
Uncover the strength and nature of people’s connec­tions on social media.
Identify people that are “most inves­ted in a stance: emotion­ally, ideo­lo­gic­ally, and person­ally.”

Voyager claims that these insights are compiled by its propri­et­ary AI tech­no­logy, which does­n’t require the inter­ven­tion of an analyst or invest­ig­ator. Voyager also claims that its plat­form can instantly vet people on social media based on a user’s pre-determ­ined set of ques­tions.

Voyager posi­tions itself as a social media search tool, as opposed to a tool that searches through the Inter­net in its entirety. Its sources include all major social media plat­forms, includ­ing Face­book, Twit­ter, Instagram, VK, TikTok, and Tele­gram.

Known Clients: the LAPD conduc­ted a four-month trial of Voyager’s tools between July and Novem­ber 2019. There is one purchase order for Voyager products for the Coun­cil of the Inspector General on Integ­rity and Effi­ciency in 2021.

Relev­ant Docu­ments:

Sole provider letter
Voyager Analyt­ics User Guide
Roadmap for 2019
Present­a­tion, “COVID-19 Outbreak: Identi­fy­ing a Threat Actor”
White paper, Naval Air Station Corpus Christi shooter
Proposal for the LAPD, Octo­ber 2020
Pricing propos­als for the LAPD
Capab­il­it­ies & Data Sources: EDGE NPD is a Polish soft­ware company that created ABTShield, a tool the company claims can monitor online narrat­ives to unearth and track disin­form­a­tion and foreign malign influ­ence campaigns. In its pilot with the LAPD, ABTShield focused only minim­ally on disin­form­a­tion and instead vacu­umed up millions of tweets about civil unrest, Amer­ican poli­cing, elec­tion secur­ity and disin­form­a­tion, poten­tial danger, domestic extrem­ism/white nation­al­ism, and the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan (because of the large Armenian popu­la­tion in Los Angeles). As part of the data ABTShield sent to LAPD, the tool included the user­names and geoloca­tion data of the tweets it collec­ted. The company did not provide the LAPD with support for its claim that its tool could track disin­form­a­tion or online “bots and trolls.”

In its corres­pond­ence with the LAPD, EDGE NPD claimed its tool can:

Compile social media posts by a keyword or topic group­ing.
Track specific social media handles reques­ted by the client.
Identify bot and troll attacks.
Analyze social reac­tions to news and articles.

EDGE NPD claims ABTShield has access to data from social media plat­forms such as Face­book, Twit­ter, Parler, and Tele­gram. EDGE NPD also claims that ABTShield can track news sources, forums, and blogs, but has not provided specific details regard­ing these data sources.

Known Clients: The LAPD conduc­ted a pilot of ABTShield in Octo­ber and Novem­ber 2020. The U.S. Embassy in Warsaw purchased licenses for ABTShield in 2020 and 2021.

Relev­ant Docu­ments:


White Paper
Sole source provider letter
The LAPD’s reques­ted keyword list
EDGE NPD’s addi­tions to the keyword list
Compre­hens­ive keyword list from the LAPD’s trial
Thank you letter from the LAPD
ABTShield data for the LAPD

how do police use social media

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.


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