Dee Anna is one of Hootsuite’s speaker candidates for SXSW 2015. Vote for her talk here and see her in Austin next spring.
Among the many challenges law enforcement organizations face is maintaining open communication with the communities they serve and protect. Whether to better understand citizens’ concerns, share public safety information, or gather leads, this is a challenge many modern police forces are meeting with social media. Two months ago, I proposed a panel to explore the NYPD’s efforts to foster dialogue between New Yorkers and its officers. I had no idea how the events of this summer would change the tone and intensity of conversations around this topic.
Social media can be an incredibly powerful tool for creating dialogue and building understanding. It can also have the opposite effect, particularly when emotions are running high. The first images many of us many of us saw from the violence and unrest following the police shooting death of Michael Brown were shared via Twitter. Protesters and demonstrators in Ferguson, Missouri, used social media to share their stories, rally support to their cause, and call attention to law enforcement’s heavy-handed reaction to civil disobedience.
But while social media helped tell part of the story that might otherwise of have been suppressed, the voices that dominated the #Ferguson hashtag were not always credible sources of information. As Nick Bilton notes in his New York Timescolumn, “Twitter users sought out and shared accounts that aligned with their viewpoint, with little regard to whether they were true.” The online conversations sparked by Michael Brown’s death were not characterized by mutual understanding, least of all between police and the citizens of Missouri.
The summer’s events have made police use of force—and more broadly the broken relationship between law enforcement and citizens in so many communities around the country—an issue of critical national importance. While the topic I first envisioned when I proposed this panel will inevitably change with the latest news related to the issue, I believe a discussion about how law enforcement can help foster more open dialogue with the people they serve should be part of the larger national conversation.
SXSW is still more than six months away, and in that time the story will continue to evolve. We can’t be certain what the salient news and events will be when we’re in Austin in 2015, but this topic will undoubtedly remain worthy of a panel with someone who understands it from front-line experience: Martha Norrick, Director of Citizen/Workforce Engagement at NYPD. I hope to see you there.