Engagement or broadcast? – social media and policing protests

There has been a lot of discussion about the use of social media during protests. This reared its head again after the weekend’s protests in London and the way that social media was being used by protestors, bystanders and the police themselves.

Some found it a good way to get information out to the wider community and a form of engagement, whereas others felt it was merely broadcasting messages about the activity. The messages could easily be taken out of context, retweeted hours after they were originally put out and in just 140 characters could appear quite menacing.

Using social media during policing events and operations is not a new thing. It has become a regular part of the operation whether it is during policing of marches and demonstrations or police ‘raids’ that lead to multiple arrests. At some point I am sure that a decision was made about why social media was going to be used and what people wanted to achieve. But this does appear to have been lost over the years and should we question when and how social media are used?

How can social media really be used to engage with the protestors and wider public?

It has been mentioned that the world has changed and sociologically there used to be a group mentality around protests which impacted on the way they were policed. The methods were based around the group as a whole and it operating together. However, now this has changed and the group is not a whole it is a collection of individuals and ensuring that you consider this in managing the situation is essential. This is clearly playing directly into the world of social media where it is a collection of individuals providing their views, thoughts and opinions. If the individuals need to be treated as such on the streets then they also need to in the virtual online world.

So when the police set about providing information to people they need to be able to manage the feedback from individuals. These are unique conversations that they are starting and critically they need to be continued real-time and in a meaningful way for those caught up in events as well as those that are watching from a distance either through mainstream media or social media.

Too often the authorities identify the use of social media as another means to broadcast a message, which misses the point about engaging and starting conversations. This is when the real benefits of social media get lost and at its worst it becomes irrelevant.

Or should social media become just an operational tool for policing trying to manage protests and groups on the move? Any thoughts?

For a discussion about the use of social media when policing events join the Twitterchat under the hashtag #polchat on Thursday 31 March at 1pm.

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One Response to Engagement or broadcast? – social media and policing protests

  1. Human Factor says:

    Internet social media is here to stay and will, no doubt, evolve as everything else does. That means any group or institution that deals with communication (getting the word out or monitoring) needs to understand and accept the many uses this powerful tool has, ALL the potential uses, whether instigating conversation or managing the outcome.


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