To Tweet or Not to Tweet: Should Police Departments Use Twitter for Social Networking?
If I could have one and only one social network from any time in the history of the Internet, I would choose Twitter. Keep in mind, I'm saying this as a person who thought about writing a book about how awesome MySpace was in its heyday of the early 2000s. But there is no comparison between MySpace and Twitter: Nowhere else on the Internet can you interact with your friends and your idols simultaneously. Musicians, writers, actors, artists, politicians and pretty much anyone alive that you consider fascinating is on Twitter right now.
Corporate companies, news outlets and government agencies have also found ways to utilize Twitter -- which can prove interesting. If you're a Tweeter already, then you know the inherent perils these behemoths face when interacting with the public social network -- like when U.S. Airways accidentally tweeted a pornographic photograph to its millions of followers and an hour passed before the airline realized what had happened and took it down.
And how about when local police departments use Twitter? Is there a certain protocol that government agencies should adhere to, or do they get to use the Internet just like you and I do?
I've been following DPD on Twitter for quite a while and for the most part, the Denver Police Department has conducted itself on Twitter in a relatively helpful manner. Civilians can find out about traffic accidents and crimes-in-progress through the DPD's Twitter timeline -- which kind of acts like a police scanner. But there's still a question of what information is appropriate to share on an open forum like this -- and that's where the DPD has a problem.
A couple of weeks ago, the DPD decided it was going to use its Twitter account to live-tweet the Broncos game. While making a single statement in support of the city's team is one thing, turning this account into a hub for live game updates seems just plain wrong (see tweet above). Especially at a time when, rightfully, the actions of police across the country are being put under a microscope.
I get that these kinds of chummy tweets are an effective way to humanize (and often, add humor) to what could be considered a pretty stuffy Twitter account -- but the DPD is a government agency. A government agency that, at the moment, has a major PR problem regarding how it treats human beings. So right now, Twitter shouldn't be about being BFFs with the DPD. I mean, using a Twitter account that's supposed to be public service for the community you protect and serve to live-tweet the Broncos game? Really?
Just a few days before, a bystander had released a video to the media showing a Denver Police officer punching a suspect in the face multiple times and then tripping his pregnant girlfriend -- a video that the police had then deleted from the bystander's tablet, no less. I cannot separate those actions from my friendly neighborhood DPD Twitter account telling me how much the cops love the Broncos.
This is not about me disliking the police (yes, you can look at my own Twitter timeline and it's obvious where I stand on how local law enforcement treats the people it is supposed to serve). I wasn't the only Twitter account that had a problem with the DPD using its outlet this way: Others, some of whom have a higher opinion and general respect for the DPD, were also vocal about this misuse of the DPD's Twitter. (Scroll through DPD's @ replies starting on November 30 to see what I'm talking about.)
After complaints erupted on November 30, the DPD's Twitter was fairly quiet during the Broncos game on December 7, save for a few responses to other Twitter users about the game. One of those tweets said "rough week, we are backing off in respect for Ofc ADSIT". That's the officer who was injured by an out-of-control car at a march last week. For me, this was a confusing message: Out of respect for a fellow officer, the DPD chose not to tweet about the game? Or was the DPD simply responding to having been called out for Tweeting the game the week before? Or did the seriousness of Adsit's on-the-job injury finally persuade the DPD that its Twitter account was not the place to play cheerleader?
The Denver Police Department has a right to use social media as it chooses. But at a time in America when many of us are out in the streets demanding the right to basic, humane treatment by those who are supposed to protect and serve, the best PR move of all would be to return to that mission -- not tweeting about a Broncos game.
Be my voyeur (or better yet, let me stalk you) on Twitter: @cocodavies
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