Police Chief Tries To Blame Newspaper Shooting On The Loss Of Social Media Monitoring Tool, But It Doesn't Add Up
from the please-show-your-work dept
The first response to a tragedy by many public officials is to capitalize on it. That’s what the Anne Arundel County police are doing in the aftermath of the shooting at the Capital Gazette newspaper that left five journalists dead. Police Chief William Kampf seems to believe this could have been prevented if the department hadn’t been locked out of its social media snooping tool. (h/t WarOnPrivacy)
The acting police chief of the Anne Arundel County Police Department said a controversial tool could’ve helped investigators track down the Capital Gazette gunman before his deadly rampage.
Geofeedia is a social media intelligence tool that helps identify a user’s location based on where they post to their social media account. Acting police chief William Kampf said his department lost access to the tool, which has limited their abilities to track individuals like suspected gunman Jarrod Ramos.
I don’t think Chief Kampf is lying. But he is wrong. Very wrong. And he should have gathered all the facts before using a shooting in his town to complain about this loss of access. At the very least, he perhaps should have demonstrated Geofeedia’s crimefighting value using other cases in which something was actually prevented. But nothing was presented — not even Kampf’s ability to fully apprise himself of the situation before opening his mouth.
Geofeedia’s social media monitoring service was a big hit with both local and federal government agencies. Documents obtained by the ACLU showed the company marketed the software with a “stay ahead of the rioters” tagline in the wake of Ferguson protests. This implicitly encouraged the monitoring of First Amendment-protected activities since the dividing line between “riot” and “protest” is sometimes nothing more than law enforcement’s response to the situation.
Once these documents were made public, Facebook and Twitter revoked Geofeedia’s access to their respective firehoses. This drastically limited the usefulness of the tool. This appears to be what Chief Kampf is referring to when he says his department “lost access.” This cutoff happened in October of 2016. This cutoff date makes the chief’s assertions about Geofeedia’s usefulness highly suspect. By the time the cutoff happened, there would have been nothing to monitor.
Since Nov. 20, 2011, [the shooter] mentioned in tweets @ethartley or his last name 107 times, Marquardt by name or as “Evil Tom” nearly 100 times and @capgaznews more than 50 times, according to a USA TODAY analysis.
The account regularly attacked the newspaper and its journalists, including a reference to the deadly shooting at the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo in 2015.
It had been dormant since January 2016.
Even if Geofeedia hadn’t lost its API access, the monitoring tool would have done nothing to warn the police about the shooter’s activities or plans. Social media monitoring software is useless when targets aren’t using social media.
It’s also unclear why the police would have continued to monitor a dormant account belonging to someone it had already investigated and found nothing to arrest him for.
A detective who investigated threats shooting suspect Jarrod Ramos made years ago against The Capital Gazette told the newspaper’s staffers he did not believe Ramos was a threat to them.
The newspaper itself declined the detective’s offer to forward what he had to the State Attorney’s Office to see if it thought there was something criminal about the shooter’s social media activities, but the paper demurred, feeling it would be “a stick in a beehive.”
For this to work out the way Chief Kampf wants us to believe it does, the shooter’s social media account would had to have been active and his posts would have needed to contain enough targeted keywords to make his tweets appear on the PD’s Geofeedia dashboard. Even if all of that were true, the tweets would have needed to be unambiguously threatening to give law enforcement a reason to interact with the shooter again. Nothing stated by the police department in multiple comments indicates the shooter was being monitored with Geofeedia prior to the newspaper bringing its threat/harassment complaints to the police.
There are too many unresolved “ifs” to make Chief Kampf’s complaint plausible. And there is one undeniable fact that makes his claim completely bogus: the account was dormant — invisible to Geofeedia. The tool would not have helped police head off this tragedy before it could occur. Claiming it would have after the fact is nothing more than opportunism.