Social Media Under Investigation, Law Enforcement and the Social Web Unveiled
The Book Content and Structure
The book has 12 chapters and is divided into four sections:
- Why Law Enforcement Agencies Use Social Media
- Managing the Transition to the Social Web
- Primary Research Case Study (An Garda Síochána)
- Interviews with the Experts
I have also developed two models of best practice around law enforcement and social media, which are explained in the book:
- The Law Enforcement SocMAP Model©
- The Law Enforcement Social Media Newsroom©
An Garda Síochána & Social Media – Joanne Sweeney-Burke’s Findings
My primary research of An Garda Síóchána’s use of social media comprised four one-to-one interviews with members responsible for, or contributing to, social media within the force. The infographic from the book and featured below, depicts the profile of my interviewees.
An Garda Síóchána’s Digital Footprint – Infographics from the book
The findings of my primary research is categorised into five sections in the book as follows:
- Management Buy-In
There remains a reluctance by Garda management to implement social media force-wide. Social media was used initially to meet an operational need and evolved from there. An Garda Síochána’s first interaction with social media was on Twitter on 12 May 2011 ahead of the State visit of Queen Elizabeth II to Ireland. The @gardatraffic Twitter account was set up to push out traffic information, details of road closures and timely information. From that case study the communications office and Garda management realised that social media had a role in policing. However, my research found that An Garda Síóchána’s digital footprint has evolved organically and void of a high-level strategy.
They have two Twitter accounts, two Facebook Pages – one national and one for Crime Prevention in Co. Meath – which is an excellent case study of how social media can be used beyond the communications team and empowers local members in their work. They also have a YouTube Channel, a LinkedIn Company Page and a Flickr account.
A new policy introduced in June 2014 sets out the framework for an expansion of social media within the force. Divisions and District offices are asked to contact the press office if they want to set up local social media accounts with support from the communications team in doing so.
- Relevance of Social Media
There is a broad acceptance within An Garda Síochána that social media has a role to play in modern policing, which I’ve summarized as follows:
- To aid law enforcement – there are a number of case studies in the book, which illustrate how social media has been used successfully in cases of missing persons, child rescue alerts, to detect crime and to aid road traffic enforcement.
- To communicate with the public – In particular the Crime Prevention Facebook Page in Meath illustrates how useful this social media platform is in communicating with local people on matters of local interest. It also offers crime prevention advice and they hold live Q&A sessions on the Facebook Page.
- The technology – Web 2.0 allows for deeper engagement with citizens, real-time communications, which is free, and the management of multiple social media accounts using specific management tools all of which have been mooted by An Garda Síochána as reasons why they have adopted social media into their overall communications strategy.
- Privacy & Protection of Sensitive Data
The third dominant theme to emerge from my research of An Garda Siochána’s use of social media is privacy and data protection law. Ireland has some of the most stringent Data Protection laws in Europe and as such the force approaches social media in a cautionary manner.
One interviewee commented: “As a traditional organisation and one that’s really conservative, we have a reluctance and maybe a cautionary reluctance to use social media because we need to be very careful about what we put out as an organisation. We have to be very careful about data – data protection, human rights, quality, constitutional issues that may arise – so all of those have to be borne in mind and once is just enough to put out misinformation to lose our credibility.”
In relation to training my research found that there is a lack of self-awareness around the need for training on social media. Three of the four interviewees have not received any formal training while most of the interviewees felt that they did not need to be up-skilled. My international desktop research has found that those police forces that invest in training have more comprehensive social media strategies and which are successful.
- Speed of Communications
There was universal agreement among interviewees that the ability to push out timely public interest information is one of the advantages that social media provides An Garda Síochána. They have also decided that breaking news and emergency information would firstly be issued via social media before it is sent to traditional media outlets – newspapers, radio and TV stations.