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Social media and the police: Tweeting practices of British police forces during the August 2011 riots

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Authors: Sebastian Denef, Petra S Bayerl, Nico A Kaptein

In: Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on human factors in computing systems

With this paper we take a first step to understand the appropriation of social media by the police. For this purpose we analyzed the Twitter communication by the London Metropolitan Police (MET) and the Greater Manchester Police (GMP) during the riots in August 2011. The systematic comparison of tweets demonstrates that the two forces developed very different practices for using Twitter. While MET followed an instrumental approach in their communication, in which the police aimed to remain in a controlled position and keep a distance to the general public, GMP developed an expressive approach, in which the police actively decreased the distance to the citizens. In workshops and interviews, we asked the police officers about their perspectives, which confirmed the identified practices. Our study discusses benefits and risks of the two approaches and the potential impact of social media on the evolution of the role of police in society.

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