Billed as a “refresher” course for 25 precinct command officers, the session at John Jay College boiled down to one key concept: “common sense,” according to Martha Norrick, director of Citizen-Workforce Engagement and Mobilization for the NYPD.
As a test, officers were shown “two different pieces of content and asked which one would be shared more.” For example, Norrick said, “missing person tweets that include an image of the missing person are shared more than tweets that don’t.”
Law enforcement generally has a hard time on social media. The CIA's Twitter account, for instance, comes off as discordantly chummy, like a wise-cracking uncle who'd like you to pay attention to his dad-jokes instead of his habit of occasionally sending people to black sites. Plus, social media is inherently a place for talking back. Back in April, the NYPD asked people to tweet photos of themselves with police officers, and tag them #myNYPD. The internet responded with a deluge of photos of NYPD officers beating citizens. It's hard to broadcast to an audience on social networks if that audience is challenging much of what you say, and even harder when that audience has a fundamentally different view of reality from you.
Capital's story suggests that the NYPD is trying to reckon with all this. I'm interested to see what that reckoning will ultimately look like. As a journalist, one of the surprises of using Twitter is that you might initially adopt it in order to promote your own stories and then soon find that the conversations you have influence the stories that you tell. I'm skeptical (but curious) about whether social media could have any similar effect on an institution like the police department. Since the April fiasco, the NYPD does seem to have gotten better at Twitter, at least. Capital highlights some examples:
That second tweet accidentally encapsulates the complexities of all these attempts. A police officer agreed to let a kid dunk over his cruiser during a basketball tournament in Staten Island. Brian Hogan-Gary, the dunker, made his dunk. The crowd was ecstatic, and the police department looked good. It was a great social media photo op. The only wrinkle is that Hogan-Gary was wearing a shirt memorializing Eric Garner, who died after an NYPD-administered chokehold earlier this month. Nearly every story about the picture mentioned it. The NYPD's tweet elided it.