Police learn how to use social media to bypass reporters

RIchmond Times-Dispatch | Poynter

Police at a Richmond, Va., conference that proposed to "arm" them with "the practical knowledge to enter the social media world with confidence" are getting a good lesson in controlling stories: While Monday's session was open to the news media, Zachary Reid reports for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Tuesday's and Wednesday's sessions are reserved for law-enforcement professionals.

Galax, Va., Police Chief Rick Clark told the conference "he was lucky to work in a town without a daily newspaper or television station," Reid writes.

He said he thought his department's website was his town's news source, at least on police information.

That approach typifies one of the reasons cops are enthusiastic about social media: It allows them to bypass reporters. Last June David Krajicek wrote about police departments' use of social media and said police love the ability to get their side of a story out. Krajicek quoted Eric Hartley, then a reporter for The Capital of Annapolis, Md., who'd written that social media allowed police "a façade of openness."

Social media can also be a law-enforcement tool as well as a challenge for police. One vendor at the conference offered "a service that allows police departments to monitor Twitter feeds for criminal activity," Reid writes. And Del Quentin Wilber wrote this past March about Mark Pray, who tweeted and updated Facebook despite being held in Washington, D.C.'s jail while facing multiple charges of murder and racketeering. (Pray was convicted.)

Wilber later wrote that prisons have fostered a thriving trade in contraband smart phones, and "the largest and most reliable source of such devices for inmates are corrupt guards."

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at TBD.com and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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