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A Report of
Laura Madison Christa M. Miller Chris Worden
© 2010 Canadian Association of Police on Social Media
CAPSM provides leadership for law enforcement on the proven, reliable and most effective best practices for Internet based communication tools relating to both internal and external purposes, and to advocate for the use such technologies for the communities they serve and the members they represent.
TABLE OF CONTENTS Abstract…………………………………………………………………………………………………….3 Introduction………………………………………………………………………………………………..3 Background………………………………………………………………………………………………..4 Internet Usage……………………………………………………………………………………4 Twitter Usage…………………………………………………………………………………….5 International Twitter Usage……………………………………………………………………..5 Methodology………………………………………………………………………………………………6 Results……………………………………………………………………………………………………..7 Authoritative Visuals: Use of Twitter Features………………………………………………..8 Use of Third-Party Tools……………………………………………………………………….11 Tweet Automation………………………………………………………………………………13 Legal Disclaimers and Policy………………………………………………………………….13 Twitter Activity and Subject Matter……………………………………………………………14 Conclusions and Recommendations………………………………………………………………….19 References……………………………………………………………………………………………….21 Appendix…………………………………………………………………………………………………22
ABSTRACT To use Twitter to its fullest potential for public communications, emergency management, and other functions, law enforcement agencies must first understand the medium -- not only how citizens use it, but also how their peers use it both officially and unofficially. This study, a survey of 1,089 police and police-related Twitter accounts, used 25 different criteria to show how agencies and officers are using Twitter, where they can improve, and implications for their future use. Keywords: law enforcement, Twitter, crisis informatics, social media policy, third-party Twitter tools, public information, community relations INTRODUCTION The way law enforcement agencies use social networking for public relations and communications is not well understood. It is easy to look at a handful of Twitter and Facebook accounts, and think they represent all law enforcement agencies on those particular social networks, whether they are active or inactive or positive or negative in tone. However, this does a disservice to the 1,000+ law enforcement agencies and officers on Twitter, as well as the communities they serve. The fact is that agencies approach the way they use these tools in a variety of ways: personal accounts both official and unofficial; official department accounts; via mobile devices, third-party tools and the basic web interface; and in conjunction with other social networks. They may assign one person or a team to maintain their accounts, opt for a positive or neutral tone, or try an account briefly before ending its use. The goal of this study is to refine our current understanding of the way law enforcement agencies in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom use the social networking tool Twitter. Popular because of its messages’ brevity, Twitter allows for one-to-many communication, at the same time facilitating an unprecedented means for two-way communication between police and public. Currently, most if not all analysis of law enforcement Twitter use is qualitative and anecdotal. This study quantifies that use and analyzes levels of engagement, such that law enforcement commanders, public information officers, members of the media, and members of the public (among others) will be able to assess their local agencies’ and officers’ use compared to others’. The study will also help police to develop best practices regarding Twitter use, whether personal or official. Researchers wanted to find out whether police users: ● ● Fully utilized Twitter’s many features, such as professionally made backgrounds and appropriate avatars, to create a better sense of engagement with their followers. Accessed Twitter via the standard web interface, or used third-party and mobile-device
tools. This would indicate whether they had a good command of social media capabilities as well as whether they accessed their accounts from the field. Automated any aspect of their Twitter engagement, including whether they tied their accounts to other social tools such as Facebook or twitterfeed. This could indicate not just a good command of social media capabilities, but also ensure postings even when the officer was unavailable. Included legal disclaimers or other policy about their social media use. Tweeted information about their on-duty activities including arrests; information about wanted or missing persons, local traffic advisories, or community volunteer initiatives; or links to local news media. Tweeted personal opinions about crime or criminal justice; hobbies or other personal interests; potentially sensitive information about subjects or ongoing cases; or prejudicial statements.
The study also assessed how talkative, or engaged, police users were. BACKGROUND Although no law enforcement-specific social media research currently exists, plenty of studies have been done which can be applied to police social media use. Internet Usage Notably, law enforcement agencies must foremost be aware of how the Internet is actually used, not just in their own communities but also nation- and worldwide. Digital media measurement firm comScore Inc. notes that nearly three-quarters of global internet users monthly use social networking sites. However, the World Internet Project, conducted by the Center for the Digital Future at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, found that just half of 10 reporting countries reported more than a majority of their respondents use the internet. In the United States, 78 percent of respondents were internet users. About equal numbers of men and women in the United States use the internet, according to the WIP, as do 42 percent of American respondents aged 65 or older. Of those who do not, most are not interested or do not see the internet as useful. Fifty-seven percent of American respondents believe that half or less of the information they receive online is valuable. These findings are important for law enforcement agencies for a variety of reasons. They cannot expect to rely solely on social media for their community relations, but can consider social media to be an enhancement to their communications efforts. If about 22 percent of the population and more than half of elderly adults do not use the internet, and if more than half of users do not trust online information reliability, then police must consider the effect on their communications about crime trends, disasters, issues of public trust, and even more mundane events like traffic incidents. With that said, it is better to be available to supply correct information to citizens who do use the internet and social media, then to fail to be in those online
spaces. Twitter Usage With regard specifically to Twitter, comScore Inc. reports that in June 2010, nearly 93 million Internet users visited Twitter.com from their homes or workplaces. Exclusive of third-party Twitter applications like TweetDeck, this represented an increase of 109 percent from the previous year. Regionally, Europe saw 22.5 million Twitter visitors in the same time period, an increase of 106 percent, while North America’s 25 million visitors represented a 22 percent increase for that region. In comScore’s six mobile markets (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, German, Spain and Italy), Twitter use is growing among smartphone users. For the purposes of this study, 4.2 million (8.3 percent) of US smartphone users accessed Twitter.com in one month from their mobile devices, while 5.8 percent of smartphone users in the United Kingdom did likewise. On the other hand, a recent survey showed that half of Twitter users tweet less than once per day, and nearly a third have never tweeted. Meanwhile, only ten percent of users tweet five or more times per day, despite Twitter activity increasing. Again, police must consider the implications of these statistics for their online communications -this time for technology-savvy users in their communities, who are more likely to report about their involvement in large- or small-scale disasters. The nascent field of “crisis informatics” as described by Palen et al. (2010) takes as a matter of course that members of the public will respond to and become involved in crises, including actively communicating information to one another. Part of this is the practice of “retweeting,” or copying tweets with credit given to the originator(s). Retweeting serves a valuable purpose in that it can spread the reach of information much further than a single user’s network; thus, government agencies must consider it valuable, and take pains to tweet content that their followers will want to retweet, in particular information that has URLs and hashtags included (Suh 2010). International Twitter Usage Apart from emergencies, it should not go unnoticed that Indonesia, Brazil and Venezuela had the highest numbers of people visit Twitter.com (out of the 41 countries which comScore reports). With Indonesia at 20.8 percent market penetration, Brazil at 20.5 percent, and Venezuela at 19 percent, and countries like the Philippines, Mexico and Singapore not far behind at 14.8 percent, 13.4 percent, and 13.3 percent respectively, police users in North America and the UK must remember that these countries rank high for cyber criminal activity. It follows that, even if the actual investigation of crimes remains the purview of federal and state-
level task forces, reporting may well be initiated with local law enforcement when citizens become aware that the innocuous-looking link they clicked from Twitter downloaded malware to their computer or smartphone. Even if local police never find the malware’s origin, higher market penetration in countries already known to host cyber criminals increases the likelihood of North American and British crime victims, and thus of reporting. Indeed, as a recent Barracuda Labs report states, activity is increasing on Twitter. More people are joining, and the nearly 29 percent of “True Twitter Users” along with casual users are becoming more active -- resulting in more malicious activity. The Twitter Crime Rate, or accounts that ended up being suspended by Twitter, was 1.67 percent through the first half of 2010. METHODOLOGY Researchers estimated the total number of police Twitter users across Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States at 1,089, and analyzed this number of accounts. Although it is possible that some police users joined Twitter as the study was ongoing and therefore were missed, this number is likely to be small and not affecting the overall sample size. Researchers began to “collect” or follow law enforcement Twitter accounts in April 2010, a process that continued through July 2010. Accounts were not separated by whether they belonged to an officer or to an agency, although they were separated by country. Account assessment began in July 2010 and ended in August 2010. Researchers coded each account according to 25 different criteria. These assessments were entered into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet for each country and then tabulated. Analysis of the research questions was completed using spreadsheet tabulation. Researchers did not code for responsiveness -- whether and how a Twitter user replies to followers. As the study was intended only to be a survey of use, correlations were not completed. The study also does not try to compare Twitter accounts with actual numbers of law enforcement agencies and officers in each country. That is because some individual officer accounts are official, and others unofficial; they do not all represent an accurate cross-section of police in a particular country or even regions within. A marginal number of unofficial agency accounts, including police unions, fraternities and civilian-created “scraper” feeds of computer aided dispatch calls, were excluded from the study because researchers did not believe they accurately represented answers to the research questions. Also excluded were police accounts from outside the Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
RESULTS Of the 1,089 police accounts currently in existence, a majority of nearly three-quarters (800 accounts, or 73 percent) belong to police officers or agencies in the United States. One-fifth (227, or about 21 percent) belong to police in the United Kingdom, with the remaining 62 accounts (about 6 percent) belonging to Canadian police.
Canada UK 6% 21% US
At the close of the study in August 2010, accounts in all three countries had tweeted a total of 376,821 times. Percentages were roughly proportional to account numbers in each country: about 75 percent came from the United States, about 16 percent from the United Kingdom, and about 9 percent from Canada.
Total Number of Tweets
Canada UK 9% US 16%
Accounts in all three countries have a total of 489,470 followers, with 83 percent of them in the United States, 10 percent in the United Kingdom, and 7 percent in Canada.
Total Number of Followers
Canada UK 7% US 10%
However, the proportions shift somewhat when it comes to the number of accounts the police are following. Police follow a total of 98,128 accounts; just 69 percent of these are in the United States, while 21 percent are in the United Kingdom and 10 percent in Canada.
Total Number of Following
Canada UK US 10% 21%
However, it is often said that follower numbers are not an appropriate measure of engagement because they do not provide the entire picture. Indeed, although they have the fewest accounts, Canadian police have an average of 590 followers (compared to 80 for British police and 506 for American). And they follow an average of 156 accounts (compared to 93 in the United Kingdom and just 84 in the United States). Authoritative Visuals: Use of Twitter Features Researchers wanted to find out whether police users fully utilize Twitter’s many features, such as professionally made backgrounds and appropriate avatars, to create a better sense of engagement with their followers.
Na m e & Ra nk
Na m e & R an k
Bi o Co m pl et e
Bi o C om pl et e In sig n ia or B ad ge
Grand Totals Yes
In sig n ia or B ad ge
Ba ck gr ou nd C ra . ..
Ba ck gr ou nd C ra . ..
Totals ‐ All Nations
Authoritative Visuals ‐ UK
Authoritative Visuals ‐ Canada
Grand Totals No
Ph ot o of O f fi c er
Ph ot o of O ffi ce r
Lin k t o B lo g o r ...
Lin k t o B lo g o r ...
Grand Totals NA
Ve rif ic at io n by ...
Ve rif i ca tio n b y . ..
Na m e & R an k Bi o Co m In pl sig et ni e a or Ba B ad ck ge gr ou nd C ra ft Ph ed ot Lin o of k O to ffi B ce lo g r or Ve W Av rif eb at ic ar at sit is io e n B by ad T ge w o itt r o er ffi ce r p ho to
Av at ar i s B ad ge . .
Av at ar is B ad ge . .
Authoritative Visuals ‐ US
100% 80% 60% 40% 20% 0% Name & Rank Bio Complete Insignia or Badge Background Crafted US Yes Photo of Officer Link to Blog or Website Verification by Twitter Avatar is Badge or officer photo
Use of name and rank is important to transparency, or an officer’s or agency’s willingness to take responsibility for its content. Overall, only 32 percent of accounts state name and rank. Of all three countries, the United Kingdom was strongest at using this detail; nearly half of its accounts made the statement. In the United States, that percentage dropped to 28 percent, and in Canada, was lowest of all at 16 percent. A completed biography -- the 160-character notation in the upper right-hand corner of a Twitter page -- can be a qualitative indicator of transparency. Twitter bios convey a degree of personality, to the extent that they may be entirely professional -- or take a tone of silliness, sarcasm, satire, and so forth. Left blank, they can leave a viewer guessing as to the account’s purpose or even its legitimacy. Nearly three-quarters of all accounts had completed bios. The percentage was not far off in the United States and Canada -- with 72 percent and 69 percent, respectively -- but in the United Kingdom, 81 percent of accounts showed completed bios. A police officer or agency that uses a badge, patch, or photo of a cruiser or department as an avatar and/or part of a background may convey a sense of authority, and perhaps more importantly, distance. Conversely, an officer or agency that uses a photo of him- or herself in the avatar or background may be seeking to convey a sense of humanity. Officers who use pictures of themselves in uniform likely seek a balance between humanity and authority. Insignia or badges were present in a little more than half of all accounts. This percentage was about the same in the United States, but rose to nearly 70 percent in Canada. Meanwhile, only 40 percent of British accounts used insignia or badges. However, about 47 percent of all British accounts used officer photos, compared with only 24 percent of Canadian accounts and 13 percent of American accounts. Whether the account’s avatar contained an officer photo or badge was also measured. These depictions were present in about 72 percent of all accounts. The percentage was similar in Canada (71 percent), the United Kingdom (68 percent), and the United States (73 percent). Twitter users have a choice between uploading their own background image, or using the web interface default. For a police department, an official-looking background that is crafted with
insignia, officer image, contact information and/or legal information can help to convey a sense of professionalism and authority that is not present in a generic default background. Nearly half (43 percent) of all accounts featured a crafted background. This percentage was slightly higher in the United States with 48 percent, but it was lower in Canada with 34 percent and lower still in the United Kingdom with 26 percent. Twitter users also have the option of linking to a website from their account profiles. For law enforcement users, that might be a department website or a blog. The presence of either indicates users who seek to communicate with others beyond 140-character tweets; linking to a website can provide additional context to department activities, while a blog -- if regularly updated -- conveys the desire to provide more dynamic content to the public and can also help with verifying that its actually a police account if links on the blog or website are also present. Nearly two-thirds of all accounts linked to a website or blog. This percentage was similar in the United States and in the United Kingdom, but was closer to three-quarters in Canada. Finally, a verified account indicates that the Twitter user is indeed who s/he says s/he is. This is most common among celebrity users, but can be a useful brand management tool for government agencies too -- particularly law enforcement agencies, which may be susceptible to pranksters or even users with more malicious intentions. However, researchers found that only eight of those law enforcement accounts indexed in this study were verified by Twitter staff -- one in the United Kingdom, and the other seven in the United States. Use of Third-Party Tools Researchers wanted to know whether police users accessed Twitter via the standard web interface, or used third-party and mobile-device tools. This would indicate whether they had a good command of social media capabilities as well as whether they accessed their accounts from the field.
Totals ‐ All Nations
100% 80% 60% 40% 20% 0% Web Only 3rd Party Platforms API in use RSS in use Facebook to Twitter Nixle in use Mobile in use
Grand Totals yes
Grand Totals no
Grand Totals na
Tools Utilized ‐ Canada
100% 80% 60% 40% 20% 0% Web Only 3rd Party Platforms API in Use RSS in Use Facebook to Twitter Canada na Nixle in use Mobile in use
Tools Utilized ‐ UK
100% 80% 60% 40% 20% 0% Web Only 3rd Party Platforms API in use UK yes RSS in use UK no Facebook to Twitter UK na Nixle in use Mobile in use
Tools Utilized ‐ US
100% 80% 60% 40% 20% 0% Web Only 3rd Party Platforms API in use RSS in use Facebook to Twitter US na Nixle in use Mobile in use
A little more than half of the accounts in all countries utilize the web interface only. About onequarter use third-party tools like TweetDeck, HootSuite, and the like; American and British adoption of these tools, which are 23 percent and 26 percent respectively, represent a lower rate of adoption than in Canada, 40 of whose accounts use these tools. All third-party tools use Twitter’s Application Programming Interface (API), but not all tools change the API setting to reflect use of their particular brand name. Researchers recorded “API” separately from other third-party tools to account for this.
Fifteen percent of all accounts use API tools. The rate of American law enforcement agencies using API tools is much higher -- nearly 18 percent -- than in either Canada (6.5 percent) or the United Kingdom (3.5 percent) due in large part to American use of the service Nixle. Nixle, which uses the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (NLETS) platform, was touted as a way to broadcast community information without the need to engage, as conventional Twitter use demands. Of the American law enforcement agencies that use Twitter, 12 percent use Nixle to push updates to Twitter. Finally, researchers coded for whether mobile devices (and applications) were in use. (It should be noted that Nixle is accessible via mobile device, but was not counted this way because there is no way to tell when it is used in the field vs. from a stationary location.) Twenty-seven percent of all law enforcement Twitter users use mobile devices. The rate of adoption is highest in the United Kingdom at 39 percent, followed by Canada with 35 percent mobile use. Only about onequarter or 23 percent of American police tweeters, however, use mobile devices to tweet. Tweet Automation Researchers wanted to find out whether police users automated any aspect of their Twitter engagement, including whether they tied their accounts to other social tools such as Facebook or twitterfeed. This could indicate not just a good command of social media capabilities, but also ensure postings even when the officer was unavailable. Researchers separated the use of RSS, or tools such as Twitterfeed, from other third-party tools. Use of RSS tools indicates the desire to share news -- most commonly blog entries, but also any news items published via RSS, or Really Simple Syndication. Close to one-fifth of all active law enforcement Twitter users use RSS; this is broken down into eight percent of Canadian accounts, about six percent of American accounts, but two-thirds of all British accounts. Whether Facebook updates are pushed to Twitter is important because it reflects a different level of engagement, a desire to seek a broader audience by pulling one group of people (Twitter followers) towards another medium in which to engage. Nevertheless, Facebook-toTwitter adoption rates are low: just about ten percent overall, with Canada and the United Kingdom sharing similar rates (eight and six percent, respectively) and 11 percent of agencies in the United States using Facebook-to-Twitter. Legal Disclaimers and Policy Researchers wanted to know whether police users included legal disclaimers or other policy about their social media use. Both make clear what followers should and should not expect from interacting with police on Twitter. However, none of the 62 agencies or officers accounts in Canada included either disclaimers or policy. Nine American agencies had legal disclaimers, but no policy links. In the United
Kingdom, meanwhile, no agencies posted legal disclaimers. Only one agency -- the London Metropolitan Police -- included a link to its Twitter policy. (Interestingly, however, at the time of the survey the Met had not tweeted, despite its detailed policy.) Twitter Activity and Subject Matter Researchers assessed how talkative, or engaged, police users were. They defined “talkative” as accounts that tweeted one or more times per day, most every day of the week, “active” as accounts that tweeted several times per week, and “sparse” as accounts with only few tweets per month or less. Accounts with no tweets were counted along with locked or protected (accessible only to approved followers) accounts.
Totals ‐ all Nations
Talkative Active Sparse 13% None Locked 6% 3%
Overall, most accounts fell into the “Active” or “Sparse” categories with 38 and 41 percent of accounts, respectively. Only 12 percent could be considered “Talkative,” but just six percent had no tweets, and only three percent were locked. Police Twitter users in the United States showed very similar proportions. However, Canadian agencies had a higher proportion of “Talkative” accounts, while in the United Kingdom, the differences were profound -- 21 percent of accounts were “Talkative,” 42 percent were “Active,” and only 31 percent were “Sparse.”
Talkative Active 5% 3% Sparse None 18% Locked
UK UK Talkative UK Active 2% 5% 0% UK Sparse 21% UK None UK Locked
US US Talkative US Active 3% 6% 0% US Sparse 10% US None US Locked
Researchers wanted to find out whether police users tweeted information about their on-duty activities including arrests; information about wanted or missing persons, local traffic advisories, or community volunteer initiatives; or links to local news media.
Qualitative & Quantitative ‐ Totals
100% 80% 60% 40% 20% 0%
re sts ee ts or Tw ab M ee ou is. ts t T .. ab ra ou ffi c/ t P Sa ol Tw fe ice ee ty & ts/ C Tw re om ee tw . .. ts ee pe ts rs lo Tw on ca ee al l n o ts ew pin ab s io ou ns Tw t h a. ee ob .. ts bi po es , in te Tw nt te ial ee re ly sts ts se pr ns ej iti ud ve ici ... al co m m en ... Tw an te d
yes no na
t d ee ts ab Tw ou ee ts ab
ut y o
r a r
Tw ee ts ab ou t d ut y o
100% 80% 60% 40% 20% 0%
Tw Tw ee ts ab ou t T r af fic /S .
ee ts ab ou t W an te d. .. .. r a .
Tw Tw ee ts ab
Qualitative & Quantitative: Canada
Qualitative & Quantitative ‐ UK
yes no na
.. ou t P ee ol ts/ ice re . . tw . Tw ee ee ts ts lo ca pe l... rs Tw on ee al o ts pin ab ou .. . Tw t h ob ee bi ts es po , .. te . Tw nt ial ee ly ts se pr n. ej .. ud ic i al c.. .
ee ts ab Tw ou ee t d ts u. ab . ou Tw t W ee ... ts ab Tw ou ee t T ts r.. ab . ou Tw t P ee o. ts/ .. re tw Tw ee ee ts. ts .. pe Tw rs on ee a. ts .. ab ou Tw t h ee ... ts po te Tw nt ee ial ts .. pr ej ud ici ..
Qualitative & Quantitative ‐ USA
100% 50% 0%
t P ol ee ic. ts/ .. re tw Tw ee ee ts ts lo ... pe rs on Tw al ee o ts p. .. ab ou Tw t h ob ee bi ts e. po . te nt ial Tw ly ee ... ts pr ej ud ic i a. .. Tw ut y . . an ... t W t d t T r ou ee ts ab Tw ee ts ab af fi .. .
ee ts ab
ee ts ab
About half of all users tweeted about on-duty activities, including arrests. In Canada, this percentage was closer to 63 percent; in the United Kingdom it was as high as 70 percent, while in the United States it was only about 42 percent. Nearly 38 percent of users tweeted about wanted or missing persons. While in the United States, the percentage was similar at 34 percent, in the United Kingdom the rate was higher at 46 percent, and in Canada higher still at 52 percent. About 54 percent of users tweeted about traffic or other public safety advisories. American users tweeted these at a slightly lower rate (50 percent), Canadian users at a slightly higher rate (58 percent), and British users at nearly two-thirds (64 percent). A little more than one-third (35 percent) of all accounts tweeted about police and community volunteer activities. Sixty-nine percent of Canadian users tweeted on these topics; likewise British users. In the United States, however, this rate fell to just under one-quarter. Users were not likely to tweet links to local news media stories. Overall, only about one-fifth of users did so. This was about the same in the United States, and higher in Canada (27 percent), but lowest of all in the United Kingdom (seven percent). Researchers also wanted to know whether police users tweeted personal opinions about crime or criminal justice; hobbies or other personal interests; potentially sensitive information about subjects or ongoing cases; or prejudicial statements. Only nine percent tweeted personal opinions about crime or criminal justice. This percentage remained consistent across Canadian, British and American users.
Nearly one-fifth of all users tweeted about personal interests or hobbies. This was about the same in the United States, slightly lower in Canada at 17 percent, but higher in the United Kingdom at 22 percent. Whether police users tweet potentially sensitive legal information -- such as clues that could identify suspects or victims of crimes -- was of interest, in part because of media stories about police officers posting pictures of crime victims and scenes online. Overall, 99 percent of users avoid such tweets. In the United Kingdom and Canada, only two accounts apiece tweeted sensitive information; in the United States, only 11 accounts did. Finally, accounts were assessed for whether they tweet prejudicial or marginalizing statements, such as grouping “people on that side of town.” or statements that could be interpreted as racist or sexist. Overall, only three percent of users made such statements. Only one Canadian account had made them; no accounts in the United Kingdom had. However, in the United States, 29 accounts made such statements at least once. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS Police in none of the three countries have a “better handle” on Twitter use than in others. Instead, each group of police has its own strengths and focuses, some of which may be cultural or political while others may reflect better command of social media and how it can serve the community. For example, British police have the fewest followers on average, but have the highest proportion of “talkative” as well as “active” Twitter accounts. They also have the highest proportion of RSS use, indicating a degree of automation which may not be of as much use to followers as more personalized tweets. On the other hand, Canadian police, even with the fewest accounts of the three, have the highest average number of both followers and followees, and a higher proportion of “talkative” accounts. Meanwhile the United States, with the most accounts and most tweets, have the fewest average followees as well as more “sparse” accounts. In general, then, police should follow more people and companies in their own region -- not just for the sake of gaining followers or with the intent of reading every tweet, but to increase their reach: the likelihood of their tweets being retweeted during times of crisis or other need. In addition, law enforcement agencies should commit to tweeting at least 2-4 times per week in order to stay on their followers’ radar (including responding to tweets or retweeting interesting local information). They should experiment with tweeting at different times of day to see which of their followers (for instance, private citizen vs. company) engages via retweet or conversation; they should also experiment with content, including links and even hashtagging. On average, British police tweet the most about their on-duty activities and traffic and public safety advisories, while American police are strongest of the three countries at tweeting missing
and wanted persons information, but are least likely to tweet community and police volunteer activities. All are worthwhile types of content. So are links to local news stories, yet agencies across all three countries tweet them least of all. In fact, no law enforcement agency should discount the value of local media, just because social media make it easier to tell their own stories. While in the United States, the police/media relationship can be adversarial, traditional media are important conveyances of information in times of crisis. Engaging them can take a variety of forms: following them, tweeting their policerelated story links (even if they are redundant to an agency’s own press release or blog entry). An agency that shows it is paying attention to its community earns social capital and credibility. However, it is important that public information officers not be the sole representatives of law enforcement on Twitter. Individual officers with their own accounts have important voices; policy can and should drive their tone, but in general, because the vast majority of officers using Twitter do not make legally sensitive or marginalizing remarks, they should be trusted to make the right decisions and perhaps even support the agency’s efforts in disseminating information. However, they should also be trained to tweet, whether on duty or off, with a particular focus on not tweeting “just anything” but rather having a strategy for Twitter activity. This kind of use can be defined and governed via internal guidelines, which should depend only partly on “best practices.” It should also be specific to the agency’s culture and individual officer preferences. In fact, the lack of legal disclaimers (e.g. “The opinions expressed here do not reflect those of my employer” or “This account is not monitored 24/7; please do not use it to report crimes”) and social media policy (which may include disclaimers as well as purpose and other information) is of concern. Forming and then publicizing such statements helps clarify the account’s purpose along with that of each person who maintains it. The statements also help citizens understand what to expect. Law enforcement users in all countries can improve their use of visual cues to convey purpose, professionalism, transparency and humanity. These include officer photos and/or images of badges and other insignia, along with complete biographies and official-looking backgrounds. In general, British police do a better job of using their own photos and of filling out their bios, while American police are more likely to have official-looking backgrounds and their names and/or ranks clearly displayed. Canadian police have the most links to their websites or blogs. (Web presences should also have prominent links to Twitter and other social accounts.) Whether a law enforcement account needs to be verified should be a function of its size and reputation. It is not unheard of for pranksters or even helpful citizens to “brandjack” an agency account. Some have tweeted only computer aided dispatch information, but others (most notably in Austin, Texas, USA) have made fake accounts look official, and caused brand damage. Thus while verification is not necessary for every single agency, it is worth careful consideration. Finally, police Twitter users should try to experiment more with third-party and mobile Twitter
platforms. American users in particular need to school themselves on tools that exist and how to use them; for example, British police use of RSS-to-Twitter far surpasses use in either Canada or the United States (although again, care must be taken not to over-rely on any one tool). In multilingual communities, meanwhile, TweetDeck’s translation tool may come in handy. American police especially need to work harder at adopting mobile Twitter use. Being able to tweet from the scene of a bad incident or disaster can be critical to successful crisis monitoring and management. That more police are using Twitter to connect with their communities is encouraging. However, they should take care not to use it only because it is popular or because the neighboring agency signed on. Instead, they must recognize it in the context of public communication at large: who uses it, how they use it, and where it can fit into various types of police operations. REFERENCES Barracuda Labs. “2010 Midyear Security Report.” 2010. http://www.barracudalabs.com/downloads/BarracudaLabs2010MidyearSecurityReport.pdf. Accessed August 20, 2010. Center for the Digital Future. USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. 2010. http://www.digitalcenter.org/WIP2010/wip2010_long_press_release_v2.pdf. Accessed August 20, 2010. ComScore, Inc.
http://comscore.com/Press_Events/Press_Releases/2010/8/Indonesia_Brazil_and_Venezuela_Lead_Glo bal_Surge_in_Twitter_Usage. Accessed August 20, 2010.
Palen, et al. “A Vision for Technology-Mediated Support for Public Participation and Assistance in Mass Emergencies and Disasters.” http://www.cs.colorado.edu/~palen/computingvisionspaper.pdf. Accessed August 20, 2010. Suh, B.; Hong, L.; Pirolli, P. L.; Chi, E. H. Want to be retweeted? Large scale analytics on factors impacting retweet in Twitter network. Second IEEE International Conference on Social Computing (SocialCom); 2010 August 20-22; Minneapolis, MN. http://www.parc.com/publication/2489/want-to-be-retweeted-large-scale-analytics-on-factorsimpacting-retweet-in-twitter-network.html. Accessed August 21, 2010.
APPENDIX CAPSM Research Framework for Data Analysis Totals: US, UK, Canada 1. Total Tweets 2. Total Followers 3. Total Following Authoritative Visuals: Visual representations and links located on police Twitter accounts. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. Name & Rank Bio complete Insignia or badge Background crafted Photo of officer Avatar is badge or officer photo Link to blog or website Verification by Twitter
Tools Utilized by Police Officers and Agencies When Using Twitter. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. Web Only Third Party Platforms API in use RSS in use Facebook to Twitter Nixle in use Mobile in use
Quantity and Quality of Communications: Police Officers’ Activity and Topics. 1. Talkative, active etc 2. Tweets about duty or arrests 3. Tweets about wanted or missing persons 4. Tweets about local traffic or safety 5. Tweets about police and community volunteer activities 6. Tweets or Retweets local news Tweets from Main Stream Media 7. Tweets personal opinions about Crime or Criminal Justice System 8. Tweets about hobbies, food, travel, sports or exercise. 9. Tweets potentially sensitive legal information or that may ID subjects 10. Tweets prejudicial comments or statements that could marginalize an identifiable group