Should Police Departments Use Social Media?

The false report of a gunman at a high school in Concord, New Hampshire got out of control Tuesday evening when a number of social media posts by students provided misinformation and apprehension among students.

Source: Wikimedia
Source: Wikimedia

This story is bad news.

What really happened? One student filed a false report that another student threatened her with a gun. The police apprehended the accused teen, found that the report was false, released the accused and the accuser could be charged with filing a false report. That should have been the end of the story.

Instead, while the investigation was going on, according to Concord Police Chief John Duval:

Inaccurate messages started showing up on social media… One said a bomb went off. Another urged people to go to the school. A Concord High hashtag included a Tweet about gunfire and possible hostages.

Timeline:

7:35 pm – “Victim” files report with police

10:30 pm – Police apprehend suspect

10:35 pm – Police tweet that suspect has bee apprehended

2:30 am – suspect released

Clearly, the students who posted false information to social media, either to fan the flames of the incident or because they thought it might be funny have a lot to learn. I expect school admins are working on some sort of educational program or assembly to make sure this kind of thing doesn’t happen again.

What about the police? According to the article:

Duval said Concord police do have a Facebook page and Twitter feed, but he has more to learn about social media.

Other than the police’s 10:35 tweet, they gave no updates via social media.

I think we’ve reached a tipping point. The police department’s customers are the public. If there is something going on, the police have Facebook and Twitter accounts, and the public chooses to communicate about the incident (falsely or not) via social media, it is up to the police to respond in kind in a timely manner unless it impedes an investigation. The FBI have even issued some thoughts on the topic.

A lot of work needs to be done.

 

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