What police should & should not be doing on social media right NOW
If you’re managing a police social media account, you're not just the voice of your department, you’re now the voice of the entire profession
By Yael Bar-tur
I don’t know one police officer who isn’t filled with a combination of rage, disappointment and embarrassment after watching the video of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Add to that the many protests and injuries to officers and civilians around the country, and it’s enough to leave even the toughest cops in a puddle of despair (trust me, I know them).
With much of the turmoil taking place online, if you’re managing a police social media account, you’re no longer only the voice of your department, which is difficult enough. You’re now the voice of the entire profession. You may not have signed up to speak on behalf of police everywhere (hey, you may not even have signed up to run the social media for your department!) but in a world where tweets drive public policy, police must adjust.
The good news is, we can use social media to slowly rebuild relationships and trust within our communities. We can use it to provide information that may not only help with the healing process but also help protect civilians and officers alike.
Here are some thoughts on what police can do now on social media, starting with the don’ts:
Twitter will always amplify the anger and hate, but remember, it doesn’t represent reality. It’s not easy to read posts that call for killing officers or see people celebrating photos of injured cops, and it may cause you to want to disengage entirely. Remember that for the most part, these views don’t reflect the majority of your community. Just like the majority of cops, the majority of people want to heal and move forward, together. The anger is real, but we can’t dismiss the opportunity for discussion because of the extremes. We don’t like being judged by our extremes either, right?
It’s understandable that many police departments aren’t comfortable talking about Minnesota. However, ignoring it entirely is a statement as well. Gone are the days where we can pretend something didn’t happen, and even if you believe it has nothing to do with the men and women of your department, if your community sees it differently, you’re going to have to start a discussion.
DON’T be cute
No one loves a good photo of a police K9 or a dance challenge more than I do but now is not the time. It will make you appear tone-deaf, and won’t win over a soul.
Social media has a great BS filter. If any of your posts or comments come off as insincere or self-serving, people will notice. Don’t stage any moments for PR purposes (ever) and don’t speak of new policies or tactics if you don’t plan to implement them.
Social media can’t fix your department, It can only reflect it. If you’re doing great things, by all means, show that reflection through the eyes of your officers. But if you’re not willing to practice what you tweet, don’t bother.
Ideally, this should be from a personal account such as a chief, and not in some meaningless, detached word salad. If you’re feeling emotional about what happened, don’t be afraid to share it. Sincere, raw statements delivered straight to the public are authentic and show that you actually care. Press releases do not.
Regarding the tragedy in Minnesota, I have some thoughts that have been stirring with me for the week, and I feel it's time to say a few things. For those that disagree, I respect your opinion, but allow me a few words given a 28+ year career and counting. (1/9)— Chief Doug Shoemaker (@DShoemakerGJPD) May 29, 2020
If you condemn this, do you have to condemn every police incident in the future? It’s complicated. The reason Minneapolis stirs such emotion is because of how clearly wrong it is. This is why you see such an outpour of statements from police officials – it’s easy to see the unlawful behavior that led to tragedy, so if something like this happens again – yes, condemn it. Fortunately, this is incredibly rare. We know that most viral videos have missing details or nuances that police officers may see from a tactical standpoint that make the incident, even if tragic, a lot more complicated. As you always do, look at every incident on a case-by-case basis and never respond with a knee jerk reaction. We don’t have the luxury of posting opinions without judging the entirety of the situation.
It’s hard to put into words the anger, sadness, and frustration I have as a law enforcement professional regarding what I have witnessed in Minneapolis...(1/5) https://t.co/LJc9RfZAR9— Deputy Chief Chris Hsiung (@chMtnViewPD) May 29, 2020
DO talk about what you do
Many departments have policies in place to prevent what happened in Minnesota. From tactics to bias training, a lot of good work is being done throughout the country, and it’s important that people are aware of it. Transparency is key, and people want to know how their department is equipped to prevent future tragedies.
We've gotten a lot of questions about our policies & training. We've tried to compile the them into FAQs: https://t.co/2MXtAqhXEA. Thank you for your interest & trying to understand why we do what we do. We live here, too, so we are deeply committed to serving and protecting KC. pic.twitter.com/bcWxuoGiGe— kcpolice (@kcpolice) May 29, 2020
DO share good moments
Social media amplifies the negative, but the positive is out there. Don’t toot your own horn and post things like “look how great our officers are” which can come off as insincere, but rather share good interactions if others capture them, like this raw video of the Atlanta Police Chief among the protestors, having an honest discussion that undoubtedly left both sides feeling a little bit better about the future.
Leadership also means listening. This is the Atlanta police chief out in the street listening to those she protects. Powerful example. 🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/MMBNItVUu7— Heath Mayo (@HeathMayo) May 31, 2020
DO get more opinions
Before every step, hand the phone over to someone else to take a look. Not just for typos but for sentiment and tone. Get some opinions from people outside your office that may have a different perspective, to make sure what you want to say is useful and appropriate.
DO communicate vital information
While maybe not the most exciting, people want information that’s useful. Closed roads, march starting times, anything that can help guide people who are affected as well as clearly set the limits for anyone trying to take advantage of the situation by using violence. If you make arrests because of public safety issues, stand behind those, but communicate them clearly, otherwise they will be communicated for you by others.
We have declared an unlawful assembly throughout Downtown LA.— LAPD HQ (@LAPDHQ) May 30, 2020
From the 10 Fwy to the 101 & the 110 Fwy to Alameda—This is being made following repeated acts of violence & property damage. Residents should stay inside—Business should close—Those on the street are to leave the area
Reprinted with permission from LinkedIn.
About the author
Yael Bar-tur is a social media consultant who previously served as the director of social media and digital strategy for the New York City Police Department where she developed her own strategy and training guide for social media and policing. She has trained hundreds of members of service on the use of social media, both in the NYPD and in other agencies. She is also responsible for exploring new channels for the NYPD and creating viral videos with millions of views.
Born and raised in Israel, Yael served in the Israeli Army as a foreign press liaison in the height of two wars and was also a reserve duty soldier in the Israeli mission to Haiti immediately following the 2010 earthquake. She holds a master's degree from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, where she wrote her thesis on police use of social media. In 2016, she was named one of the International Association of Chiefs of Police "40 under 40," recognizing 40 law enforcement professionals under the age of 40 from around the world that demonstrate leadership and exemplify a commitment to their profession. In 2018, Yael was awarded the Hemmerdinger Award for Excellence for distinguished public service by the New York City Police Foundation.