New Zealand police are experienced social network sleuths. For about two years now, various NZ police stations have been uploading CCTV footage, mugshots, and security still shots to their fan pages and asking fans to identify suspects. The popular Queenstown police page, for example, made its “first Facebook arrest” back in January 2009. The station’s Facebook page reliably nets one or two arrests each month using these methods, to this day. Not bad at all.
NZ police presence on Facebook is expanding into new arenas. After a recent beach party-turned-riot at Castor Bay, on Auckland’s North Shore, the resident police force’s inadequate and tardy response drew criticism from locals who said the party was well-advertised on Facebook. They broke it up, but only after it had ballooned to over a hundred firework-tossing kids (and adults bearing booze). Residents say they should have known about the Facebook event page, arrived earlier before it got out of hand, and prevented the youths from “running amok” – which, as everyone knows, is only a short step away from “raising Cain.” The North Shore police have vowed to monitor any upcoming Facebook party announcements, noting that social networking sites apparently act as a “common medium” for coordinating gatherings.
The kids are not impressed. A Castor Bay Beach Party 2! page has been erected, with over 6000 invites and almost 2000 confirmed attendees. “Just a small gathering… nothing big,” reads the More Info section. Wall posts and comments abound, as do atrocious spelling, awful grammar, circuitous arguments leading nowhere, old men yelling at kids to get off their lawns, pleas for unity/harmony/peace, and racially-tinged accusations. In short, it’s an Internet comment section.
The public reception of the police presence has been mixed. The “NZ POLICE ARE LYING PIGS!!!” page only has 401 friends, while Queenstown has almost 2,000. “STOP the NZ Police from destroying our nightlife industry!” has 1,633 members, and Claran Robert Callaghan, creator of the Auckland police profile, laments on a September wall posting that “We Are Low On Supporters Which Is Not Good.”
Nope, but it may be a sign that they’re doing their jobs. I do feel for the kids looking to party – I’ve been there myself, and one man’s riot is another man’s celebration – but this should serve as a portent for what lies ahead: with more and more people using Facebook to gather, plan, and organize events, and police becoming more and more Facebook savvy, the latter will avail themselves of pertinent information regarding the former. If your grandmother can figure out how to snoop around your profile, police certainly can and will monitor public channels.