What Police Departments should and should not be doing on social media right NOW
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 like everyone have to 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.
DON’T judge. 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?
DON’T ignore – 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.
DON’T Bullshit. Social media has a great bullshit 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.
DO Condemn, Ideally 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.
If you condemn this, do you have to condemn every police incident in the future? It’s complicated. The reason Minneapolis stirs so much emotion in the public and police 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.
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.
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.
DO get more opinions – it’s a minefield. 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, stan behind those, but communicate them clearly, otherwise they will be communicated for you by others.