The social media challenge for policing

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

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?

  1. 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.
  2. Ensure that all communication staff are briefed, can use social media and are comfortable using the tools available to monitor and respond.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

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3 Responses to The social media challenge for policing

  1. Really interesting article Amanda and one which I have to agree with.

    If you’re a follower of #brumpolice on Twitter, you’ll know how we have used social media during a number of critical / major incidents to huge effect. The most recent example being an armed siege at a supermarket.

    Rumours were circulating that there were hostages, that shots had been fired and goodness knows what else.

    Through effective monitoring, we were able to pick up on these and quickly set the record straight.

    We’ve not yet had need to use this technique for major investigations but anticipate this technique will be just as effective.


  2. Nigel Barlow says:

    Very good piece Amanda,and spot on that the tools of communication no longer rest with the journalist and the media owners.

    You are correct in saying that this is not something to panic about for it challenges the current situation where the control of news is on the hands of a few monopolistic suppliers.

    It is not just police forces that can add to the emergence of new forms of communication channels but other public bodies including local councils can add their part as well.

    But one final point.The journalism model is up in the air and hands on heart,I don’t think anyone knows where it will land.

    The one positive it did do is to provide the checks and balances on information,something that social media,as has been well illustrated in recent days,can never do for it will always lack ,by it’s very nature, a regulatory framework.


  3. Pingback: links for 2011-05-29 « Sarah Hartley

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