From witness to web sleuth: Does citizen enquiry using social media affect formal eyewitness identification procedures?

Havard, C.; Strathie, A.; Pike, G.; Walkington, Z.; Ness, H. and Harrison, V. (2023). From witness to web sleuth: Does citizen enquiry using social media affect formal eyewitness identification procedures? Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology, 38 pp. 309–317.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11896-021-09444-z

Abstract

Eyewitnesses to crimes may seek the perpetrator on social media prior to participating in a formal identification procedure, but the effect of this citizen enquiry on the accuracy of eyewitness identification is unclear. The current study used a between-participants design to address this question. Participants viewed a crime video, and after a 1-2 day delay were either exposed to social media including the perpetrator, exposed to social media that substituted an innocent suspect for the perpetrator, or not exposed to social media. Seven days after viewing the crime video, all participants made an identification from a video lineup. It was predicted that exposure to social media that did not contain the guilty suspect would reduce the accuracy of subsequent identifications. Analysis revealed no association between social media exposure and lineup response for target present lineups. For target absent lineups there was a significant association between social media exposure and lineup response, but this was driven by a higher number of correct rejections for participants who saw the guilty suspect on social media. The results suggest that, at least in some circumstances, witnesses searching social media does not have a negative effect on formal ID procedures.

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