APD: The Facebook Friend You Didn't Know You Had

As the Chronicle reported on Sept. 4, 2015 ("APD Tracks Social Media"), local social media monitoring software company Snap Trends had provided a document titled "Keywords" to the Austin Police Department. At that time, Assistant City Attorney Cary Grace told the Chronicle that she had asked the Texas Attorney General's office to exempt them from public disclosure. However, according to Grace, APD "forgot" to include the document when submitting the materials to the AG's office. After an inquiry and in accordance with Texas open records law, APD has now provided the "Keywords" document to the Chronicle.

Snap Trends develops subscription-based software that allows subscribing law enforcement agencies to monitor social media. As part of APD's subscription, Snap Trends provided a list of recommended search term keywords to APD in May 2015, presumably to be used with their software. The document is organized into seven categories: guns, drugs, gangs, stealing, anti-police, protest/demonstration, and public safety. Most keywords are obvious, such as "cocaine" or "marijuana," as well as misspellings of those words and slang. The list for drug keywords is by far the largest.

However, the protest/demonstration list contains keywords that could be considered more problematic from a free speech perspective. Besides listing "Black Lives Matter" as a keyword, other, more general words are listed, such as "protest," "demonstration," and "marching." Also included are the names of police shootings victims "Eric Garner" and "Michael Brown." The anti-police category includes a handful of keywords, but omits the classic, "fuck the police." ("Fuck the cops" is listed.)

As of press time, Snap Trends hadn't replied to questions from the Chronicle asking how the keywords are compiled or what law enforcement qualifications the company may maintain.


Download the PDF of the "Keywords" document.

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