An underground Brooklyn rapper's Instagram page became the centerpiece of an NYPD gun-ring investigation, netting 254 firearms and 19 indictments, including erstwhile Instagrammer and underground rapped Matthew 'Neno' Best. Best posted photos of wads of cash and various guns he helped sell out of his recording studio in Ocean Hill. Police used evidence on his page to help further the investigation.
Social media accounts, especially ones that are public, can be viewed by anyone. There isn't a need for NSA-type surveillance; in this particular case, an undercover detective started to look into Best and was able to build the case from there. Considering that Best's account was public, it's not dissimilar to bragging loudly and flashing wads of cash and weapons in the middle of a busy public square. Anyone, such as a police officer, could overhear it.
The use of social media in criminal investigations is also nothing new, and as police become more aware of its investigative potential, don't be surprised to see more cases using social media posts as criminal evidence. In this instance a crime was obviously being committed, and by acting on the evidence in Best's profile, the police were able to complete a successful bust.
However, one of the issues with the internet is the sometimes difficult task of differentiating between what's real and what isn't, ranging from posts on somebody's Facebook wall or catfishing. In a country that guarantees free speech, police needn't react to every supposedly threatening rant on Facebook or Twitter by arresting somebody. Social media will, inevitably, become a tool used by police in conducting investigations. Usually, though, criminals are more careful than Best or his accomplices when it comes to an operation of this scope.
Despite its advantages, social media can also be abused by investigators in a variety of ways. As we have seen with the NSA's request of users' password and encryption keys, there is the possibility of investigators posing as someone and "planting" criminal evidence in their profile, or unlawfully hacking into someone's account in order to glean information.
As with any sort of new technology, it has the potential to be abused by those in power, even though it can also be used as a useful investigation tool when used within the bounds of legality. The case of Matthew Best will hopefully be the rule and not the exception in how the police use social media in criminal investigations.