Why Government Agencies Need a Social Media Policy

Written by Scott

Topics: Uncategorized

Subtitle: How Tacoma Has No Clue May Want to Revisit Theirs
(see Update at bottom of post–this post is in flux)

Those of us in the Seattle-Tacoma area experienced a real awakening of social media in the aftermath of the killing of our four officers on November 29th, a day few of us will ever forget.

Social media played a huge role in the hours and days that came after by passing along information and details far faster and widespread than traditional media was able to, and which some traditional media embraced. And in cases like this, the faster and further information is spread, the better chance of capturing the suspect(s). They was a group of us on twitter that were very active in spreading the word as information was released.

And Pierce County, as the lead of the investigation, understood that, and embraced social media as one of the avenues to get information out. They also included this tweet on the 29th:
http://twitter.com/PierceCo/status/6180387927

We appreciate help in spreading the word about our tipline for the Lakewood officer shooting. 866-977-2362

Throughout the day, as the manhunt continued, information was relayed. In the afternoon, though, this was tweeted by the City of Tacoma: http://twitter.com/CityofTacoma/status/6184791797

Reminder for Tacoma-area Twitterers – live-tweeting police activities in your neighborhood right now may hamper law enforcement efforts

Here lies the issue, and I replied as much (must have been as a DM, because I did not find in my @Replies search using Twitter Backup): the city of Tacoma was not the lead in the investigation, and unless and until Pierce County and/or Ed Troyer asked us to not live-tweet information, we would not stop.

What I got back in the way of DM’s shocked me (text taken directly from the emails when I get a DM).

The only reason I posted that is that Tweets could give away info to the suspect and hamper police efforts. Sorry if that offends

What?! Like Clemmons would be sitting around checking out Twitter. What was being tweeted at the time was general police activity noted in Tacoma, and by the time we tweeted something, it would completely apparent to that location that the police would be there. So I replied that it had nothing at all to do with offending (which, of course, is the biggest sin according the the politically-correct movement), but with getting information relayed. The reply:

I understand the sentiment. But recall that the criminal could monitor Twitter just like we do. I would hate to be the one to tip him off

Note the attempt at inducing guilt…and again, the reasoning is simply astonishing. Or official.

My point is this: government agencies need to have an official policy regarding social media, how and when to use it, and more importantly, that the person using the account MUST understand that he/she is doing so as an official spokesperson of the agency, not as an extension of themselves and/or their own feelings. Preferably, though in government all bets are off, such a policy should be written by those who actually “get” social media.

Pierce County got it, and as I’d tweeted in the days following the shooting, they did an outstanding job of using social media. The City of Tacoma, however, failed miserably.

Update: the City’s Twitterer (dunno if that the official title) has contacted me. They do have a policy in place, though may not address the concerns here. We’ll be talking next week and will update at that time. [What have I gotten myself into this time? 😉 ]