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Law enforcement learns to navigate social media's treacherous waters

POSTED: July 3, 2014 12:33 a.m.

For law enforcement, social media is a two-way street: It’s an opportunity for officers to promote their work, but also leaves them open to public critique.

“We do welcome and encourage communication between the police department and the community, as well as welcome the community’s thoughts and opinions,” said Gainesville Police Department spokesman Cpl. Kevin Holbrook.

Intervention in the dialogue is minimal, he said.

“To some extent we do necessarily have to police our social media sites,” he said. “However, again, that’s the individual’s opinion and perception, and they’re entitled to that.”

The important thing, he said, is that facts shine through.

“We want users to realize the correct information. The factual information,” he said.

Holbrook said the department understands the desire to vent based on the nature of an interaction.

“There are situations where not everyone loves the police. We understand that,” he said. “Individuals have both positive and negative contact with the police, and many times they reach toward social media to voice those concerns or those issues they may have.

“Typically individuals just want to vent, and we allow them to vent,” he added.

Not that they don’t set limits, Holbrook said.

“There are items that if they violate our social media policy, our terms and conditions, then we will remove them,” he said.

Deputy Nicole Bailes, with the Hall County Sheriff’s Office, said the team also welcomes feedback from residents.

“The social media platform of the Hall County Sheriff’s Office is a tool utilized by the agency to broaden our capabilities to communicate and educate citizens on pertinent information within the community,” she wrote in an email. “We encourage our citizens to use this tool to provide us with their feedback and information.”

But Bailes also cautioned that the sheriff’s office, too, has parameters.

“We do not allow graphic, obscene, explicit or racial comments or submissions nor do we allow comments that are abusive, hateful or intended to defame anyone or any organization,” she wrote. “Messages and comments that do not reflect that standard are subject to deletion and removal from the page.”

And as a “family-friendly forum,” she said the office requests that posts resharing material from other social media outlets stick to “clean and positive” content.

Simply using common sense is best in a realm where people might “hide behind the anonymity of those pages,” she added.

Holbrook said in weighing both the benefits and drawbacks of their pages, most astounding is the sheer growth.

“We would have never imagined that social media could be so powerful,” he said. “Just this past week we put up a video attempting to locate an individual, and within a day, that video had reached over 112,000 people.”


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