The Arab spring started with a single ordinary Tunisian fruit seller protesting against government atrocities. Yet it turned into the most potent revolution since the Russian revolution. In the best seller “freakonomics” the authors vociferously argue about how crime rates in the US rose alarmingly in the late 80’s and 90’s but suddenly petered out as if it never existed. Several theories abound but according to them this transformation happened due to a single event: Roe vs. Wade which legalized abortion in the US. These events reminded me of the butterfly effect: How the most unconnected and seemingly innocuous events could utterly transform the world we live in.

And social media seems to be the place to look for these events. After all, People spend a staggering 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook. Social media has become part of how we lead our lives and the everyday events that are part of it. This maze of pictures, comments, events and social gaming could be our window into a gold mine of insights to predict catastrophic events especially around public security and disaster management.

Public security remains one of the biggest problems facing today’s federal and local governments. The post September 2001 environment has been one of turmoil. Traditional methods of policing have failed as criminals and terrorists have adopted technology and social channels with great aplomb. The London riots showed how ring leaders were directing an “orchestrated” riot through blackberry messaging.

Governments have started to realize this. 66 percent of all US government agencies currently use some form of social media monitoring — from blogs and wikis to instant messaging and discussion boards, according to a recent study from the Human Capital Institute and Saba. The recent Capgemini BPM Global Survey 2012 has pointed out that 56% of global organizations are looking for social media based BPM solutions to counter opportunities and threats. An follow-up article in the BPM trends series by Scott Sinclair discusses how organizations are looking to harness the “Power of the Social Conversation”. One thing we can safely conclude is that social media based solutions have moved beyond being just a passing fad.

The main difficulty in using social media has been around “action-izing” this maze of information. BPM could help play a role in “action-izing” this information. Police agencies could use big data mining with text analytics and decisioning engines to rank and filter targeted information regarding social behavior. This would allow them to flag potential troublemakers, vulnerable areas and even respond to citizen concerns. BPM could then automatically route these “cases” to the necessary agencies/officers and track outcomes. This is similar to credit card fraud detection from transactional behavior analysis.

How does this work?

1. The Police Diaries: Using BPM on mobile to report on a case in real-time to colleagues and other agencies without having to spend hours on the documentation back at the station. This could help route case items to appropriate teams based on real-time data. And everyone has a single view of the case

2. Citizen Vigilantes: Police agencies globally are using online wanted pages and other details on cases for getting leads. BPM could be the insight engine to gather this information and tag it to the right authorities and actions

3. Social Stakeouts: Listening to the bad guys doing bad things has always been a part of police work. It’s important for police to search the real-time social media content to target particular keywords and phrases. Action-izing this using BPM will help police target potential troublemakers

4. Infiltration: Social media groups and blogs are regularly used by gang members to interact, plan or even socialize. There have been instances of police using this information to connect members to a multitude of crimes. It’s like another source of information like telephone records or documents

5. Connecting with the citizens: One of the key functions of Law enforcement is to communicate with citizens or vice versa. Social media can serve the role of citizen communication on important events or crimes using BPM’s capability to communicate across channels.
Of course there are several concerns around privacy and freedom of expression; however a judicious use of these capabilities could result in saving hundreds of lives and improving citizen safety and quality of life.
In today’s connected world, it is inevitable that seemingly unconnected events will impact our lives. The key is to be able to proactively anticipate and address them. The butterfly need not disturb our lives if we can hear it flap its wings.