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Social Media Handbook for Police: Part 12

Welcome to the the next instalment in my series of social media tips. These are aimed primarily at a police audience, but hopefully applicable to a wider group of people too, especially those in the public sector. This series of posts will aim to identify some good practice and useful hints and tips for police officers and staff to consider when using social media.

Part 12: Even More Operational Uses

Parts 10 and 11 of the handbook tackled using social media in public order and major investigations. As I said there, I hear a lot of scepticism about whether it is any use operationally – so called ‘real policing’.


Early adoption of social media can pay dividends when looking for intelligence. Whether it is in response to community concerns, seeking witnesses to identify graffiti tags, or in getting an early heads up on protest marches, social media has a part to play alongside traditional methods of policing.

Policing of Protests

EDL/UAF protestOne of the best examples of using social media in policing of protest marches was for an English Defence League (EDL) march in the West Midlands. The tweets below are from the EDL supporters, the general public and the police, and use the #EDL hashtag so people can follow the conversation. The police simply use the same hashtag to talk to those involved.

The conversation starts with EDL supporters drumming up support for their march:

EDL > Protest in Dudley today, come and support #EDL

This is then picked up and ReTweeted by the public to their followers, spreading the message:

Public > RT Protest in Dudley today, come and support #EDL

Then it starts to get interesting…

EDL > Muslims with knives rioting in Dudley #EDL
Public > RT 100s Muslims with knives rioting in Dudley – get here! #EDL

At this stage things look like they are getting out of hand.

Police> There are no Muslims rioting in Dudley – all quiet #EDL

Public > RT police say There are no Muslims rioting in Dudley – all quiet #EDL

Notice how the police clarification is spread by ReTweets by the public. Then the EDL supporters try again:

EDL > #EDL supporter stabbed by Muslim in Dudley
Public > RT #EDL supporter stabbed by Muslim in Dudley – come and support us
Police > #EDL no one stabbed, this is misinformation. Follow for accurate facts

At this stage the public start to realise who is the trusted source in this conversation:

Public > #EDL misinformation being spread by EDL – listen to police tweets
Public > #EDL police say no one has been stabbed- EDL lying

That doesn’t stop the EDL supporters trying again:

EDL > #EDL police allowing muslims to attack whites in Dudley
Police > #EDL no one has been attacked in Dudley
Public > #EDL don’t react to EDL lies – police say no one been attacked
Public > #EDL thank you police for accurate tweets

As you can see this time the public are not fooled. A number of forces have since used similar tactics to talk to march organisers and participants in real time as the event occurs. Nick Keane from the NPIA likes to say ‘imagine that the police voice was missing, and how the conversation might have changed then‘.

This post was previously published on Partrdigej’s blog.

Related posts:

Using Twitter Hashtags for Emergency Management by Scott Mills

Seizing the Virtual Scene by Lauri Stevens

West Midlands (UK) Police: Twitter on the Frontline by Mark Payne

Previous posts from the Social Media Handbook Series:

Part 1: What Social Media networks should I use?

Part 2: How do I get followers / friends ???

Part 3: Policies / Strategies / Guidance??

Part 4: Ten things to have on your page to drive up interest??

Part 5: What to do when things go wrong

Part 6: We don’t do that here

Part 7: Basic Guides – Twitter and Flick’r

Part 8: Connect it all together

Part 9: Talk to local people

Part 10: Operational Uses

Part 10: More Operational Uses

Justin Partridge

Justin Partridge is a senior manager for Lincolnshire Police in England. He also works on Local Policing and Partnerships for the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).

Justin Partridge has worked in the public sector since leaving university, and for the police since 2003. After being one of only three non-sworn staff selected for the prestigious Police Strategic Command Course (for those who aspire to the most senior posts in UK policing), he started working on the national Local Policing and Partnerships area with chief officers from across the UK, and with partners from the Home Office, NPIA, APA and elsewhere.

Justin is passionate about making a difference to people, and see social media and new technologies having a major role in this – especially in policing and the wider public sector. He blogs on a variety of issues, predominantly around police and technology, and can be found on Twitter talking about much the same.