Tag Archives: twitter

Can We Talk?

In the news today there has been a story about police officers and staff being investigated and in some cases disciplined for the inappropriate use of social media.

This led to some discussions ‘on’ social media.. no surprise there! We even had DCC Ian Hopkins (ACPO Digital Engagement Lead) and Steve White (PFEW Chair) discussing the situation on BBC 5 Live. (listen from 1hr 23mins)

Mr Hopkins gave an eloquent and honest overview of the police use of social media. He confirmed that police officers and  staff are getting training in the use of social media. He quoted a figure of 6000 for staff/officers trained in his force in this year alone! He also stuck to the basic and accurate standpoint that, like it or not, officers must stick within the code of ethics both on and off duty. He went on to say that he was encouraged by the news story because it highlighted that fellow officers/staff were reporting inappropriate use by colleagues and showed that the service took such use seriously. Quite rightly he also said that inappropriate use of social media was also a ‘soScreen Shot 2014-08-19 at 18.24.41cietal issue’  and that the service needed to be setting the standards. He closed his first section by pointing out the huge benefits the police and public get from our social media use and how this far outweighs the small number who get it wrong.

Screen Shot 2014-08-19 at 18.27.26As the discussions on social media continued there were several comments made about how to stay safe online. Mantras that will ensure officers tread the correct side of the line. These are useful as they are a simple scenario for people to consider when they are posting content to social media be it about work, for work or in an official or personal capacity.

I too have used such suggestions in the past. Yet I have come to conclude that they are perhaps not as helpful as first they might seem. As I highlighted in my recent blog there are many police officers and staff who have no involvement in social media at all. They don’t get it. These people need to understand how social media works and how it differs from methods the police have traditionally used to communicate information. Can we encourage users to relax with social media if we put scenarios in place that they should consider first? Are we trying to tell them they need to act differently than they would in other circumstances? When faced with stories such as today it becomes even harder to convince officers and staff to get involved.

Let’s consider the use of email. Have you ever sent an email that you thought was perfectly polite and acceptable and had a ‘snot-o-gram’ in reply? Have you read the tone in an email sent to you as chattingaggressive and threatening and ended up in an angry email exchange? It happens all the time. Tone in the electronic written word is very difficult to convey that is not an issue rowwith the spoken word.

Twitter and other social media platforms are no different.  It’s very easy to think you are starting a sensible and well mannered conversation only find you end up in what seems like a finger pointing row. This is a perennial problem and I’m not sure if it will ever go away… (emoticons can help).

So how should we be telling officers how to use social media? Well first of all I have to reinforce the comments of DCC Hopkins. You must be in line with the code of ethics.  After that officers and staff need to understand that twitter and social media is nothing more than a conversation. A conversation that they could have with someone whilst sat in their lounge taking a statement. A conversation they could have with someone on the street. Everyone in the country is a natural born communicator. We all talk to other people every day. Officers and staff already possess ALL the skills they need in order to be effective on social media.

When I have discussed such simplicity with officers they have told me that they do not understand the boundaries of the information they can share. The traditional police Common-Sense-300x225route would be to provide a policy document full of do’s and don’ts. Yet with the best will in the world such a policy could not cover every eventuality. Some basic parameters are useful but officers and staff then need to rely on that age old skill…’common sense’.

Officers are very familiar with standing at an outer cordon of a scene and saying..

‘There has been an incident at an address up the road. I can’t tell you more at the moment’.

What they wouldn’t say is;

‘It’s Mr Jones at 34. He’s been messing with kids and they’ve found a body under the patio’.

Officers know already what they can and can’t discuss in public so they already know what they can and can’t discuss on social media.

Officers deal with members of the public every single day who have been subject to inappropriate use of social media. It stands to reason that within the police service there will be the occasional user who is disgruntled about something in their work or personal life and post content that exposes them to risk. The code of ethics and discipline procedures are there to deal with such persons. There are also users who will simply make genuine mistakes and in such cases the senior command teams and PSD should be there to support them. Have you ever heard of an officer speaking inappropriately to a member of the public on the street and being banned from speaking to the public at all? Of course not.

Of course there is one issue with twitter being seen as a conversation. This is not a one to one chat. When you post content you post it for all to see and with some accounts this could be thousands of people. Everyone has different views and ideas about how things should be. So whilst a tweet or post may seem fairly safe to most there will always be somebody who doesn’t like it. This does not make it wrong. How officers and staff respond to that criticism can be the foundations and building blocks of greater trust between us and our communities. Our senior teams and PSD need to fully understand this. If they don’t then the admonishment of officers simply trying their best will squash out of existence the benefits we are currently reaping.

1. Twitter is a conversation

2. Officers and staff already have all the skills they need

3. There will be mistakes and disagreements but this is normal and perfectly ok so long as we continue to learn from them.

Can we talk? Of course we can… get to it!




Social Media and The Police 3yrs On

In June 2011 I had been tweeting and blogging for about two months. I had built up a small following and was finding my way, very carefully, in what I considered from the outset to be a complete minefield.falklands-minefield1

I had a number of people who helped me along the way in my early days. Most notable were @defencegirl and @millybancroft Both were a great help in supporting me when I got things right and politely pointing out where I had got it wrong! There were of course many others and far too many to mention but two other very early supporters and advisors were @MrCliveC and the late Paul McKeever.

One of the early characters (I believe still on here with another name but not one I know) that I got to know was @The_Duty_Sgt . He was a tweeter and blogger and appeared to have it right. Then suddenly the pressures of the organisation, threats of discipline and ‘we don’t like what you are doing’ came to the forefront. He shut down his account. This engendered my blog  Social Media and The Police where I outlined some of the many issues the police and police officers faced when using social media.

So here we are three years on. What has changed? What has stayed the same? What has been learned?

There have been quite a few changes. DCC Gordon Scobbie has retired and handed the reins of the ACPO Digitial Engagement portfolio to the DCC of Greater Manchester Police @DCCIanHopkins. The number of official and unofficial police users on social media has soared. We have had some amazing success stories and we have had some very sad ones too.  We don’t need to look far to see how successful social media engagement can be for the police. @mentalhealthcop has used the platforms to great effect and become an internationally regarded authority on police and mental health law. I will not comment on the recent history of Sgt Gary Watts from Devon and Cornwall police. Primarily because I know nothing about his situation. What can be said though is that his use of social media and the Gangnam Policeman Video was brilliant.

This raised a considerable amount of money for the SuperJosh charity. As a result Josh has become very popular with police officers on social media across the country and is raising awareness of brain tumours with children. Following the murder of PC’s Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes the #coverforGMP project went national. Under the drive of @constablechaos the suggestion grew and grew. In the end, every single force in the country sent two officers to assist GMP over the two days of the funerals. Hundreds of other officers from around the country simply attended under their own steam to pay their respects. It was a remarkable thing to see and  really brought the public and the police together in very tragic and painful circumstances.

The number of official police accounts has grown considerably. Officers appear to have more trust and are, in most cases, being actively encouraged to use social media. Forces accounts are much better than they were. Some have remained fairly static with their roadrunnerengagement whilst others have exploded into activity. Those that have done exceptionally well are often (but not limited to) the accounts that have active and respected social media users in their ACPO team. The latter has seen a massive increase and we have some great ACPO users on twitter who are ready to engage and discuss matters with officers and the public. Look no further than @cclynneowens, @garryforsythWMP and @accgarethmorgan. All the users, be they force, officer or anon have all increased their audience. For all intents and purposes the last three years have been a runaway success.

Not so fast. Before we start patting ourselves on the back look a little deeper. Some force accounts have stayed fairly static and uninspiring. Some force accounts still demonstrate that they are totally afraid of social media and engage only when they have to. Some officers have also, as I predicted in my first blog, fallen by the wayside. Some through their own actions and others because somebody, somewhere, didn’t like what they were posting. The former is expected, understandable and a natural part of the process. The latter though was a problem then and is still a problem now.

In my own force I encouraged an officer to get involved with his local police account. He had the skills and the insight. He would be brilliant. After convincing his Sgt and Insp that he would be ok the officer got the green light. He was brilliant, posted great content, increased followers by 1000’s within a month and really put the account on the map. Yet within the organisatigravity lessonson was somebody who didn’t like it. As a consequence he was pulled off the account. It was sorted and he got going again. Another complaint and he was pulled from the account again. Unsurprisingly, the officer could do without the hassle and constant threat of discipline, so gave up. Officers around the country have posted on twitter that they are shutting down (both official and anon) because they are being squeezed by the organisation and their Professional Standards Dept.

Another very well respected police tweeter has been recognised at national level but his home force will not support him. They don’t like his content. The officer tweets in a personal capacity only and the great skills and knowledge he has to offer are being ignored.

I have, compared to many police tweeters, had a good ride. There were a few hiccups early on but I then had superb support from my then DCC and the corp comms team. I am building my reputation within the force as an advisor, mentor and engagement lead. Yet occasionally I will post content that generates complaint. Officers around the country have found they can build something up but it only takes someone to complain for gravity to kick in.

Then the unthinkable happened. West Midlands Police suspended the account of @mentalhealthcop. There is a report  in the Guardian that outlines the circumstances. There was uproar on twitter and many newspapers and radio/tv news programs picked up on the story. The upshot is that the account was reinstated quite quickly.  What was entirely evident in this case though was the willingness of ACC Garry Forsyth to engage with social media users about the issue. He assured a quick and proportionate resolution and that is, from my perspective, exactly what happened. This approach dovetailed beautifully with comments made by DCC Ian Hopkins when he said that forces need to ‘encourage officers to get involved and support them when they get it wrong’.  I’m not suggesting @mentalhealthcop got anything wrong, only that the issue was swiftly resolved. That said I am pretty sure that @mentalhealthcop, notwithstanding his more recent successes came out of the experience somewhat burnt and hurt by the whole situation.

Then today this blog was drawn to my attention by the well respected tweeter @newquaysarge. This blog is so redolent of the blog by @The_Duty_Sgt as he stood down that it could have been written at the same time. Not three years later! We have come so far and yet by this blog we have made no progress at all. The contradictions between views of ACPO and Corp Comms balanced against PSD and ‘others’ seems for want of a better word ‘crazy’.

So what do we do? image013We are still making some great progress. Some officers have rightly fallen by the wayside and some respected tweeters and bloggers are put through the mill and left feeling like they should simply quit. Particularly when it may seem like there is a witch hunt going on and it starts to cost them money.

Overall we continue to make good progress. Some forces are still as described in the original blog and they really need to pull their socks up. Truth can still be an issue but we are getting better as forces release some control over their news output to operational officers and away from the traditional corp comms route. This I think has been a very bitter pill for Corp Comms teams to swallow. Yet in many regards the successes of our engagement nationally will never make the news as much as where things have gone wrong or are perceived to have gone wrong.

Whilst we have come a long way, it is clear to me that there are still many many people within the police service that do not understand social media. As a consequence they are prone to complain about content they do not understand. This leads to situations where something similar to the ‘Something Must Be Done Act 2014’ by @davidallengreen comes into play.

From nearly 3.5 years of tweeting and blogging I know that all my hiccups came from concerns within the organisation. Not the public.

I know that the few complaints about content I have posted at work have all come from within the organisation. Not the public.

I know that the loss of the officer in my force was from complaints from within the organisation. Not the public.

We know from @newquaysarge that the complaints were from someone within the organisation. Not the public.

This only draws me to one conclusion. Those of us in the police that use social media ‘get it’. The public that we talk to on social media ‘get it’ too. The biggest danger that officers using social media face in 2014 are either themselves or colleagues within their own organisations who simply ‘don’t get it at all’.

On The Skids

Yesterday the Guardian published an article about the Metropolitan Police Service Air Support Unit and the use of their twitter account @mpsinthesky. The full article can be read here.

The matter revolves around complaints that the helicopter has received, across Twitter, from members of the public upset by the noise the helicopter makes. Such complaints are not uncommon. As a regular contributor to my own forces account I am well aware of how the tweet complaints / questions come in when the chopper is overhead someones home. They will vary from basic questions such as ‘what’s happening in x’ or concerns like ‘the helicopter is overhead. Should I be worried?’ We also get complaints about noise and these are predominantly at night. Nobody wants a disturbed nights sleep and the noise from the helicopters can upset many people.

Yet the crux of the issue is not the complaints that have been made but the way they have been responded to. When a tweet to an account is replied to it will automatically put the original tweeters @ name at the beginning of the reply. Otherwise the original tweeter may not see the account has replied. However, such a reply would not appear on the timeline of every other follower the replying account has. The tweet is there to be seen if people go looking and drill down into the account but it won’t show on followers timelines because it starts with ‘@’.

If you put any text whatsoever before the ‘@’ symbol on a reply then the tweet will go to the timeline of every single follower the account has. So what have MPSinTheSky done? When they replied to at least 3 tweeters they put a full stop (a dot) before the ‘@’ symbol..  like this.

. @anyuser… reply reply reply.

In the Guardian report the Met Police are quoted as saying

The Metropolitan police said the @MPSinthesky account was designed “to engage with its followers and other Twitter users who raise questions about its work”, adding that it added a character before the @ symbol “so that @MPSinthesky followers continue to be informed of the incidents the ASU are involved in”.

In itself this response seems MPSokfairly laudable. So looking at the tweets it seems, at a quick glance that it is something that the account does. Here is an example of how they have replied to a tweeter but using a dot have put an image on the timeline of all their followers that may be of interest.

They have replied to the tweet and added the image for all to see. There really is no problem with this. So then we have to look at one of the tweets that has been raised as a problem.


In this tweet we can see that the user Sarah has posted a fairly light hearted tweet about the noise overhead.

The reply again has the dot added and goes to every followers timeline. Yet the reply is loaded with sarcasm. To be fair it’s the sort of sarcasm that officers use on a daily basis  amongst themselves but don’t generally voice to the public. So was it right to use such sarcasm and was it right to (dot) the tweet and share with all?

Many times as a traffic cop I have politely told a member of the public that the road is closed and no they cannot go that way. When I have spoken to colleagues I may have expressed my frustration at how some people are incapable of reading signs and understanding why the cones are all the way across the road. This is common and is not unique to the police. Staff who deal with a nasty customer in a shop will no doubt remain polite and then voice their anger and frustration to other staff later.

This is the rub of the issue with the tweets. The first example is a little unorthodox in twitter parlance but ok. The second example has a tone of voice that would normally be kept for private conversation with colleagues. This is then exacerbated by the fact that the MPSinTheSky have chosen to share that sarcasm with 91k followers.

Is the MPSinTheSky therefore responsible for the replies that have been engendered. In some ways yes they are. They chose to (dot) the tweet and shared that sarcasm. Social media users do regularly pick up on such posts and the replies then follow. Those replies can be supportive or go straight into criticising the complainer. This has clearly happened in this case.

So what should they have posted? They should have simply replied;

“Sorry to have disturbed you Sarah. We were helping @MPSWandsworth find a suspect with a knife.”

This is polite. It contains the same information without the sarcasm and is not going to every single follower of their account.

The action of putting the (dot) before the tweet in this complaint case is akin to saying ‘I know most of you support us and our fight against crime… but look at what this idiot is saying’ – That is clearly not a message that we as the police should be publishing.

So going back to the quoted Met statement. A quick review of the account shows the use of the (dot) on a few occasions but as you scroll back there are none. This is borne out by an examination of the recent tweets but also because if they had been doing this for a long time then the complaint, as made, would have come much earlier. The statement from the Met is therefore either announcing a ‘new policy’ on how they tweet (they haven’t said this) or is a damage limitation exercise.

So what happens now. The fact that the MPSinTheSky account did not respond demonstrates a state of panic. Maybe they missed it amongst all the mentions? Possible but I find that a bit hard to believe. The silence tends to suggest that the mistake is realised and they either do not know what to do about it or have been told not to by the Comms team.

Are the MPSinTheSky responsible for the mysogynistic tweets? In simple terms, no. They cannot account for what other people may tweet but it is blatantly clear that they could have prevented it happening in the first place by not posting the tweets.

In reality the account is a good one. They have a strong following and  regularly post engaging and informative tweets. They have made a mistake. They have inappropriately applied sarcasm to a small number of tweets and then exacerbated it by sharing with all their followers.

Advice is needed. An apology would go a long way too. They should then get on with doing the good job they do on a daily basis.

Are MPSinTheSky on the skids? No. Error is the discipline through which we all advance. They should be allowed to learn from this incident, move on and become even better as a consequence.