A detective from Norfolk police has said that his investigation into the murder of a pub landlady was hampered by social media. He said it was the first time that social media rumours had caused problems for an investigation. The detective urged people to be cautious about how they used social media to discuss serious and major crime, while the Association of Chief Police Officers said to the BBC that postings which repeated false information could be regarded as wasting police time and lead to prosecutions in certain circumstances.
Checkout the article at the BBC News website http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-13541083
It appears to be missing a fundamental issue which is that it is for the police to take a lead on the situation. They should be monitoring and managing the social media arena in the way that they have been working with the media for years. There is no way of controlling the media reporting instead it is about communication professionals assisting the investigation and attempting to keep information flowing that will support the detective work.
The same is now true of investigations and how they impact on social media. People will use Facebook, Twitter and other social media to talk about cases. The key is for the investigation team to have the support to be able to monitor networks and be able to respond effectively. Thankfully, this is something that the detective recognised and he is quoted in the news report saying that it requires adequate resourcing to sift through the massive amounts of information.
So, what can the professional communication teams do to support officers dealing with investigations on social media?
- Have the right systems in place to make monitoring the social networks as easy to manage as possible. This includes being able to access the key systems through the tight IT security network.
- Ensure that all communication staff are briefed, can use social media and are comfortable using the tools available to monitor and respond.
- Work with senior investigating officers so they can understand the benefits and challenges of social media and feel able to let communication staff take a lead in managing the situation.
- Keep a regular and close watch on the information placed on Facebook, Twitter etc so that you can respond to misinformation quickly and prevent it spreading.
- Take control by placing regular updates and information about the investigation onto social networks.
The world is changing and communication is no longer something that is owned by the journalist or media owners. Social media has put the control into the hands of people. This shouldn’t be something for people to panic and worry about as many of the practices that have been used to keep working with the media can be used for social networks.
Essential to making this happen is to invest time so the police force can recognise and effectively manage the opportunities and challenges. Police communication is now far from just about the newspapers, TV and radio and PR professionals have to accept the situation and move on.