The International Criminal Police Organisation (Interpol) has urged member states to be wary of terrorists and rogue elements using social media to spread propaganda and advertise weapons, among other criminal activities.

To assist police across Africa in understanding the ways in which criminals leverage social media and how to incorporate social media into their criminal investigations, Interpol held a virtual workshop on “Social Media and Law Enforcement” for 37 officers from 13 African countries.

Organised by Interpol’s Regional Counter-Terrorism Nodes in Africa, the recent two-day meeting reviewed how countries can engage Interpol for investigative and operational support in cases with a social media element.

While the focus was on counter-terrorism investigations and the role of Interpol’s Terrorism Online Presence unit, other types of crime known to have online elements were also discussed.

The workshop explored the role of social media in police investigations, how to request assistance, restrictions on data sharing and other legal considerations.

Interpol enables police in 194-member countries to work together to fight international crime and Zimbabwe has been a member since November 1980.

According to Interpol, social media permeates nearly all aspects of our daily lives, helping us to connect, share information and cultivate a globally-minded society, but unfortunately, criminals have also discovered the power and global reach of social media, and are using it to facilitate their crimes.

“Terrorist groups spread propaganda through social networks and coordinate activities using encrypted apps,” said Interpol.

“Criminals use social media services to advertise and sell illicit drugs, weapons, animal products and cybercrime services.

“Children are groomed on social media by abusers, who also use it to share abuse images.”

The organisation said their Regional Counter-Terrorism Nodes (RCTNs) were strategically located near conflict zones or key terrorism hotspots and serve as the focal points for the organisation’s counter-terrorism activities in those regions.

Covering Eastern and Southern Africa, Western and Central Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Americas, and the Middle East and North Africa, the RCTNs provide direct support to law enforcement in each region to enhance their counter-terrorism response.

Underscoring Interpol’s commitment to assisting police across Africa to incorporate online elements into their investigations, a similar training course was held earlier this year for Libyan law enforcement officers on how best to exploit the Internet and specific social media sites in counter-terrorism investigations.

In June, Government voiced concern over the increasing use of social media as propaganda tools for promoting violence and extremism and has urged Sadc security services to work together in taking effective approaches to defend threats posed by terrorism and transnational organised crime.

The concern was voiced by Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage Minister Kazembe Kazembe during a video conference meeting of the SADC/Southern Africa Regional Police Chiefs Cooperation Organisation (SARPCCO) Chiefs of Police Sub-Committee of the Inter-State Defence and Security Committee (ISDSC).

The sentiments came after SADC states were urged to support Mozambique’s fight against terrorists and armed groups attacking civilians and infrastructure in Cabo Delgado Province in the north-east of the country.

Cabo Delgado is the north-eastern province of Mozambique, bordering Tanzania and the Indian Ocean.

Since October 2017, armed groups claiming to be Islamist militants have been attacking civilians, who have taken the brunt of the attacks, police and government workers and buildings.