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Institute of Criminology


With Dr Ben Collier

To attend in-person, please register here!

To attend on-line, please register here!



In a context of multiple overlapping crises, novel and emerging forms of harm, and the legacy of more than a decade of austerity, UK police forces are turning to an emerging mode of law enforcement, which we call influence policing. This uses the technologies of the Internet platforms to conduct digital influence campaigns within the UK in the name of crime prevention. These campaigns use sophisticated targeting of messages to directly ‘nudge’ behaviour and shape the culture of particular groups. They began in counter-radicalisation as part of the UK’s Prevent programme, but have since moved into a range of other policing areas, from online child abuse to domestic violence, knife crime, and cybercrime. By targeting people based on the words they use on Twitter, interests picked up from browsing and purchasing behaviour, fine-detail location, or Google searches, these police campaigns aim to use behavioural psychology to prevent crime. Examples include: adverts for drug counselling services appearing on the mobile phones of young men from deprived areas in their own dialect and accent when they walk near a hospital; fear-based adverts from the UK Home Office using detailed behavioural profiles to deter asylum seekers in Calais from attempting a Channel crossing; NCA nudge ads deterring children using Google to search for illegal services; and counter-terror adverts displaying on the phones of people walking within a set radius of high-security buildings; among a wide range of others. We discuss the ethical and theoretical implications of this new mode of algorithmically-enabled policing using analysis of a dataset of more than 12,000 adverts and in-depth fieldwork with Police Scotland’s dedicated strategic communications team.

A drinks reception for informal conversation will take place in the basement common room for all who attend in person.

Thursday, 1 February, 2024 - 17:00 to 18:30
Event location: 
Seminar Rooms B3 & B4, Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge