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Police, Twitter and major incidents

The Demos ThinkTank recently published an interesting analysis of the Twitter conversations between the Metropolitan Police and the public following the vicious murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich.

Twitcidents

The report authors, Jamie Bartlett and Carl Miller, compiled almost 20,000 tweets that included the tag @MetPoliceUK from the week of the Woolwich attack.

They broke down what information people were sharing online, when they shared it and its value as a source of information.

Major incidents of whatever form – disasters, sporting events, terrorist attacks – now inevitably stimulate a massive reaction on Twitter.

These Twitter reactions tend to be very diverse but typically include the sorts of tweets characterised in the wordle I’ve assembled below:

Twitcident wordle

The question that the Demos report tries to answer is whether there is any value for police services in making sense of this surge of data in real time when confronted with the challenges of a major incident.

The challenges for the Metropolitan Police from the Woolwich incident were many and varied, including:

  • Arresting dangerous assailants.
  • Investigating a murder which took place on a public street.
  • Rapidly assessing terrorist risk and possible further incidents.
  • Making themselves available for investigation following the use of firearms in a public area.
  • Public Safety and public reassurance.
  • Gathering intelligence on the inflammatory and confrontational response from the English Defence League.
  • Community relations

As you can see, this list could go on and on – so is there really value in police taking time out to analyse tweets about the incident sent to their @metpoliceuk account?

The Twitter response

One of the first challenges is to remove and ignore the large proportion of tweets which are fake – that is, sent from automated “bot” accounts. In the case of the Woolwich incident, Demos found that 45% of the 19,344 tweets they analysed were produced by a single bot network propagating the following message:

Woolwich bot tweet

Online crime

However, on the actual day of the murder over a fifth of tweets sent to @metpoliceuk were reports of a possible crime on social media.

The most common type of tweets in this category was the referral of social media content itself as evidence about alleged or supposed on-line and off-line crimes, typically instances of threats, bullying and racism.

Once the nature of the Woolwich murder became clear, tweeters passed on information to the police about possible Islamaphobic plots and threats of violence.

Organised petitions

Another large proportion of tweets (23.2% on the day itself) consisted of systematic attempts by large bodies of people to appeal and petition the police via Twitter to influence their policy. There were two main petitions.

The first was a systematic campaign calling for the arrest of a UK-based Pakistani politician accused of inciting violence in Karachi – which did result in a Met Police investigation.

The other was a campaign to the police to release more information about the Madeleine McCann investigation.

Conversation/engagement

One in nine Tweets to the Met Twitter account on that day were direct requests for police information or action.

Some of these were reporting entirely unrelated crimes and incidents, while others wanted further information around events in Woolwich particularly whether the suspects had been arrested.

(Of course, in the recent Boston bombings, social media was used extensively as the suspects were at large for several days following the terrorist attack.)

Sending off-line evidence

Perhaps most interestingly, one in 40 tweets contained what the Tweeter considered as legally relevant, including eyewitness accounts of a wide range of crimes.

A small proportion of these tweets included potentially very useful intelligence:

intelligence tweet

Conclusion

The report authors conclude that this surge in social media interaction with police is obviously a mixed blessing; there is a small amount of potentially useful information included within a torrent of hearsay and rumour plus the inevitable general noise of people just participating in the #Twitcident without any particular motive.

It seems to me that there are two key social media challenges to police in the aftermath of major incidents:

  • To ensure that there is extra capacity to monitor social media accounts and ensure that accurate, timely and rumour busting information is sent out at regular intervals.
  • To have in place a sophisticated system to analyse tweets to provide intelligence and insight.
  • Although short, the Demos report is well worth reading in full.

What’s your experience of the pros and cons of social media following a major incident?

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Dynamic police units star in #WMPLive – a UK policing first

Don’t miss this live event 7:30pm-8:30pm BST, 2:30-3:30 EST, 11:30-12:30 PST.

FIVE of West Midlands Police’s most dynamic departments will come together during a live online ‘hangout’ in a UK policing first that promises to give viewers a real-time insight into the work of critical force units.

‘WMP Live’ sees officers from traffic, motorway policing, dogs, firearms and air operations hook-up simultaneously through a live internet streaming event on Tuesday (June 25) from 7:30pm-8:30pm BST, 2:30-3:30 EST, 11:30-12:30 PST.

Using smart-phones or tablets they’ll be filmed on duty and use the opportunity to discuss their roles, equipment at their disposal and field questions from people who join the hangout on the force’s YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/westmidlandspolice).

Twitter users can post their questions in advance, and during the event, using the hashtag #WMPLive.

West Midlands Police Operations Chief Inspector Kerry Blakeman, said: “We’re always keen to explore latest technology that affords new ways of reaching out to people across the West Midlands. This promises to be an exciting insight into the work of units that largely go unseen by the public.

“Officers will be filmed whilst on duty so there’s always the potential for viewers to see units being dispatched live to incidents as they happen.

“Of course there’s always the chance of technology or connections letting us down but fingers crossed everything will go to plan.”

The ‘Policing Live’ event will be anchored by former regional news presenter Llewela Bailey who’ll move the spotlight between officers. They include:

• Police dog handler and Crufts award finalist PC Dan Thomas who’ll be joined on camera by his German shepherd and Spaniel sidekicks;
• Traffic cop PC Pete Harris;
• Firearms Sergeant Mark Picken who will discuss the role of WMP’s Armed Response officers and weapons at the unit’s disposal;
• Air Observer PC Matt Smith from the force helicopter’s Birmingham Airport base…with additional footage from the on-board ‘heli-telly’ camera as it patrols the region’s skies;
• Sergeant Dean Caswell talking live during a motorway police tour.
• And Chief Superintendent Chris McKeogh who’ll give an overview of West Midlands Police’s Operations department.

The 2013 ConnectedCOPS™ Awards

Click Here to Nominate Now – Only Two Weeks Left!

The 2013 second annual ConnectedCOPS Awards are underway. We’re looking for the best of the best in eight categories worldwide. We invite you to send in your nominations for the very best police work in social media.

With the 2013 awards we’ve added two categories. One is a strictly civilian category to recognize the civilian member of law enforcement who has achieved excellence in police communication with social media as a civilian/staff member. The second new award is for social media campaign management.

The Social Media Campaign Awards is not to be confused with the Social Media Event Management award. While the event management (previously called incident management) award is focused on a specific event (weather emergency, protest, hostage taking, live shooter) the campaign award is intended to recognize a program designed to address a specific issue or problem over a given period of time.

The other six categories are Social Media Investigator, Social Media Event Management, Top Cop Award, Leadership Award, Excellence at a Small Agency and Excellence at a Large Agency.

Only Two Weeks Left

The awards descriptions as well as terms and conditions and list of judges/partners are available. The deadline to nominate is June 30th.

The 2012 winners were a result of 83 nominations from 10 countries. They were whittled down to finalists from eight countries and the winners of the six awards represented six countries. For more information about the 2012 winners, click here.

The Social Media Investigator Award is sponsored by LexisNexis. We are considering sponsors for each of the remaining awards. Contact Lauri Stevens for more information. The sponsor is invited to serve as a judge and as presenter of the sponsored award. The sponsor’s logo is engraved on the crystal trophy. The sponsor also receives a free exhibitor position at the SMILE Conference®.

Lauri Stevens can be reached at Lauri[at]lawscomm[dot]net.

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Decentralized Social Communications: Scary Stuff!

Do you keep your social media presence “close to the vest” (e.g. only allowing Public Information Officers the ability to post content) or does your strategy include the ability for all agency officials to reach the community? The latter type of presence involves letting go of control to some extent and this, of course, requires a huge leap of faith from leadership, especially in top-down oriented public safety organizations. However, this type of strategy is currently being done quite successfully.

DECENTRALIZED COMMUNICATIONS: IS THIS THE EVOLUTION OF YOUR SOCIAL PRESENCE?
In the book “Social Media in the Public Sector Field Guide” Ines Mergel and Bill Greeves suggest that a decentralized approach to social media content production is evidence of an evolved use of social media in organizations. They state that agencies that have been using social media for a while often “make social media the responsibility of everyone” and offer the benefits of this decision:

A recent decision at the Department of Defense was to abandon the role of the social media director and instead transfer that position’s responsibilities onto many shoulders in the organization. It is very difficult for a single department or division to speak with the knowledge and authority of all the business units of an organization. “Official” responses often require time and research. They frequently result in formal answers that do not fit the casual tone inherent in social media. By formally distributing the tasks and response functions to those who have the knowledge required to have meaningful online conversations on social media channels, you can decrease maintenance costs, increase trust in those exchanges and reduce the number of missteps or rounds of interaction it takes before citizens get the “right” response from your agency. (pages 110-112)

Jim Garrow, who blogs at “The Face of the Matter” makes a similar case: “My point, and it naturally follows from last week’s post on having others write for your agency, is that we [PIOs] need to get the hell out of the way. Let your agency shine through every day. Give your experts the podium they deserve. Build them a following (or let them build a following).”

BUT HOW WOULD THIS WORK FOR PUBLIC SAFETY ORGANIZATIONS?
The Toronto Police Department provides an example of complete decentralization of social media content. As can be seen in the image below their agency’s website homepage has all the “big 3” social media buttons: Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. These buttons take the user to their official account, most likely administered by a Public Information Officer.

Choose, however, the “Connect with us” tab right below it, and their world opens up. I counted 119 different social media accounts for this organization–119! What are all these people talking about? Ideally, the content they are posting should be directly related to their position or function in the organization, and with each of the samples I chose at random, that proved to be the case. Take for instance Sgt Jack West (@SgtJackWest)—who has the title of “Traffic Enforcement.” No shocker, he talks a lot about traffic and how people can stay safe–e.g “Don’t text and drive” etc.

Patricia Fleischmann or @caringcop on Twitter, has the title of “Vulnerable Persons Coordinator.” What does she post about? How elderly and other people who might be vulnerable to crime and natural disasters can be better prepared. She also Tweets quite a lot about people that are helping each other, organizations folks can turn to for assistance, and information from community meetings she attends. She has a healthy following of 762 people.

I could go on for while with examples, but feel free to explore of these great social feeds yourself by clicking here. So, how do they keep everyone in their “lane?” How do they keep all of these people from embarrassing the organization and posting inappropriate content? Yikes–this is scary territory!

I have been told by some of these Toronto Tweeters, that they do the following:

Before they get their social account, they are required to attend a 3-day intensive social media training class that provides them with not only information about how and why to use social networks, but also how NOT to use them. This would include Department and City posting policies.

Each of the accounts are clearly marked with the fact that the person works for the Toronto Police Department, however, they do often choose to use their own picture instead of the PD’s logo–giving the account a personal touch, which I think is critical for community outreach and engagement (it says to the public–we are people to).

Each account states that they do not monitor the account 24/7, and that if anyone needs emergency assistance they should dial 911. (See below–each person’s account information looks almost identical.)
Each Twitter profile links back to the official website.

This obviously is not a willy nilly hey, all-you-guys-go-Tweet-something strategy. Their strategy is obvious, their goals are clear; and it seems to me they are meeting the objectives of reaching out and connecting with the public on platforms that the public uses everyday.

See, it’s not so scary after all!

This post was previously published at iDisaster 2.0.

Kim Stephens is an independent emergency management consultant and the lead blogger of iDisaster 2.0 where she writes about the benefits as well as the challenges the emergency management community and other public sector entities might face when employing new information communications technologies before, during and after a crisis. She has over a decade of experience in the field of emergency management. Her experience has spanned federal, local and non-governmental organizations: from the US Environmental Protection Agency, to the Tennessee Montgomery County Office of Emergency Management, and the American Red Cross. She has a Master’s degree in Public Administration from Texas A&M University.

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