New social media applications appear regularly. Many of the social media applications listed below are designed for mobile devices, which is another trend in itself. Most are free to use.
Myspace® – Myspace has rebranded itself for those interested in hip-hop music and urban culture and is growing again in popularity.
Facebook®- Facebook remains a trending application. In October 2012, it passed the 1 Billion profile mark, and continues to grow. It is the largest social networking site by any measure. Occasionally people actually will post photos of themselves engaging in criminal activity directly to their Facebook profiles, which, needless to say, makes it easy to arrest them.
Mocospace® –Mocospace is similar to Facebook in the way it functions, but is designed primarily for use on mobile phones. It is the most popular social media application for those in jails. It doesn’t require much bandwidth and so may be used on older cell phones smuggled into jails.
Vine® – Twitter released Vine in January 2013. It allows very short (7 second) videos to be recorded easily on mobile devices and shared via social media. Vine is widely used for video sharing.
Kik Messenger®– Kik is a free instant messaging application for mobile devices. It allows for the transfer of text and voice messages, photos, videos, audio and other content. It is popular with school-age children.
WhatsApp™ – WhatsApp allows for group chat sessions and the texting of videos, photos and audio. A key feature is the integration of geo-location capabilities with messaging. Facebook just purchased WhatsApp for $19 billion.
Snapchat® – With Snapchat, a user may take a picture using a mobile device and send it to someone else, but it will only be retained for a short time on the recipient’s phone. Sometimes Snapchat is used to send sexually explicit images. Law enforcement should be aware that even though these images may not be “saved” on the phone, they are cached and may usually be retrieved from the phone via a file browser, if needed for an investigation. Snapchat images may also be saved via “screen capture” by the recipients.
Poke® – Facebook released Poke in December 2012. It is similar to Snapchat but may only be used with Facebook friends. Users can specify how long the photos and videos they send will last on a recipient’s phone (up to 10 seconds). The image is only visible while the recipient’s finger is on the screen of the phone. Like Snapchat though, these photos may be screen captured prior to “expiration” and are also retained in the phone’s cache and viewable in the file structure.
Instagram® – Instagram, now owned by Facebook, allows users to take a picture or video, choose a filter to transform its look and then post it to the Instagram site. Content can also be shared on other social media sites, such as Facebook Twitter®, Tumblr® and more. It is basically instant messaging with pictures. Street gangs use Instagram as a form of communication. They may hold up signs or flash gang signs in transmitted images.
Foursquare® – With Foursquare, users can “check in” at a location using their mobile phones. Business establishments may offer Foursquare users deals or discounts when they “check in” at their locations. Users of Foursquare announce their locations via their social media platforms. The user who checks in at a particular location becomes the “mayor” of that location. Law enforcement may track the movement of Foursquare users and also determine the places where they spend the most time. Investigators may be able to find out where a suspect lives by using Foursquare (this is usually the location where someone “checks in” most often).
Vibe® – Vibe allows users to send anonymous, self-destructing messages -- that may include text, video, audio and photos -- to a general location, rather than to a particular person. The sender can select the range and duration for the message. The range can be from 160 feet (a “whisper”) to worldwide (a “bellow”) and duration may be from 15 minutes to 30 days. Anyone with the Vibe app installed and who is located within the designated range may see Vibe messages. Vibe was used widely during the Occupy Wall Street movement with participants using it to send instructions and messages to others in the movement. A Vibe account may be established by scanning the relevant QR code.
Tiger Text® – Tiger Text makes messages confidential. With Tiger Text, a user may set the lifespan of an instant message and how many times it can be read before it will self-destruct. Texts may also be encrypted. Police cannot read these messages once they have expired. Other mobile applications similar to Tiger Text include Hidden Text®, Hide SMS® and Shady Contacts®.
Tinychat® – Tinychat is a social media platform designed to facilitate streaming real-time audio and video among a small group of up to 12 individuals. It creates a virtual “room” for participants, who may remain anonymous. Tinychat is used by drug traffickers, gangs, and those involved in child pornography. It is difficult for police to capture recordings made via Tinychat. Other applications similar to Tinychat are ooVoo® and Google Hangout®.
Image: Copyright jeff Metzger, 2014 Used under license from Shutterstock.com