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13 November 2023 - Ben Collier


Ben Collier



Influence Policing: Law Enforcement Use of Digital Influence in the UK



Although discussions of online platforms and ‘surveillance capitalism’ focus on commercial and political misuse of digital targeted adverts, over the past several years, their use by law enforcement and government on domestic populations for crime prevention has been almost entirely ignored. A small selection of the many campaigns currently in progress in Europe and the UK include: deterrence adverts targeted at children searching for illegal cybercrime services on Google; a culture-shaping campaign being directed to accounts using misogynist language on; video 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 and ethnicity profiles to deter asylum seekers in Calais from attempting a Channel crossing; European Commission adverts aiming to shift attitudes in key demographics in favour of changes to legislation on encryption; and counter-terror adverts displaying on the phones of people walking within a set radius of high-security buildings. There is a vital unmet need for civil and democratic scrutiny of these techniques, their potential harms, and mechanisms for regulation and accountability. Ben reports on the initial findings of the Influence Policing Project – based on extensive studies of Police Scotland’s dedicated digital influence unit, and a wider study of campaigns by UK law enforcement.



Ben Collier is a Lecturer in Digital Methods at the University of Edinburgh. He is additionally collaborating with the Cambridge Cybercrime Centre on a number of active research projects. Ben has experience in using a range of qualitative and quantitative research methods, and is particularly interested in criminological research which engages with Internet infrastructure. Ben completed a PhD at SCCJR (University of Edinburgh) on ‘Integrated Circuits: A Critical Development of Space and Agency in Criminological Theory of Cybercrime from Actor-Network Theory and Cyborg Theory Perspectives.’