Online disinformation as a presage of violence: A role for the police?

A new paper written by Beatrice Cadet, Kimberley Kruijver and Sico van der Meer from TNO for the ‘Magazine for the Police’ in Netherlands explores the real-life effects of disinformation and proposes the VIGILANT Project as one of the key solutions for detecting and monitoring of disinformation for the police authorities.

By drawing on the case study of the election fraud disinformation leading to the riots and storming of the Capitol on January 6, 2022 in the US, the article claims that had the police been better prepared, they could have prevented more harm. The authors, subsequently, elaborate on possible barriers to police’s abilities and options, including the volume of information, timeliness, legal barriers, individual privacy and ethical concerns. These, however, can be overcome with effort staking all ethical and privacy concerns into consideration.

Detecting and monitoring online disinformation could well help predict criminal behaviour, such as violent riots, extremist attacks, large-scale vandalism or human trafficking. If the police were better prepared for the storming of the Capitol, to use that example again, the rioters might have been able to do much less harm.

One of the pathways, the article argues, is to utilise only aggregate information for monitoring, instead of utilising information on the individual level. The aggregation of information can be facilitated by a software application, specifically designed for police authorities. A software that would be able to analyse the data on the group level while making predictions about possible disturbances.

The VIGILANT project is trying to build exactly such kind of software, bringing together multidisciplinary expertise on privacy, ethics, AI and software development.

This could be a piece of the solution to the problem police forces in many democratic countries struggle with: how toachieve a healthy balance between security on the one hand and freedom of expression on the other.

The article was originally published in Dutch and can be accessed at:

Bibliographical details: Cadet, B., Kruijver, K., and Van der Meer, S. (2023), Onlinedesinformatie als voorbode van geweld: Een rol voor de politie? [Online disinformation as a presage of violence: A role for the police?], Tijdschrift voor de Politie [Magazine for the Police], No. 2, 36-40.