Sometimes the answer to a complicated question is actually very simple. That’s certainly the experience of the public sector in Walsall.
The question we were faced with after the 2011 riots was how we could better respond and re-assure the next time there was an emergency?
Many people were taken aback by the disorder that sparked first in London and then in pockets across the country. They were shocked at stories at how social media played a role in how these incidents came about and we were faced with rumours were flying about what was happening.
In Walsall, we were fortunate enough to have a small number of officers – myself included – who were using social media. It meant that we could listen to what was going on and it played a role in how we policed the incident. Most importantly, it meant that we had a way to counter those rumours.
For example, PC Rich Stanley, an officer who is on Twitter as @pcstanleywmp tweeted a picture of Walsall police station not on fire from his mobile phone to stamp out the claim that the building was on fire. To date, it has received more than 2,400 views. He also tweeted a pictures of exhausted officers sleeping at desks which saw tens of thousands of views.
It didn’t all go well. One of our partners in good faith retweeted an inaccurate rumour which didn’t help at all.
Afterwards, we sat down with police and bloggers from Wolverhampton together with council staff from Wolverhampton and Walsall too to work out how we could do it better. It became clear that when an incident developed it quickly spread to Twitter. We realised that we need to be on Twitter within minutes so people know where they can get the information.
Our approach became simple:
- Whoever is the lead agency they’ll post something to Twitter swiftly. Even if its basic information.
- Others in the public sector with retweet it.
So, when this is a police incident, others such as @walsallcouncil will use their networks to point people in whichever police account we are using. If it’s a council-led incident like heavy snow other partners will reciprocate.
In a nutshell that’s it.
We find that this simplifies the process and cuts down on the misinformation that can unwittingly be shared.
We took this policy to the Walsall Partnership which is an umbrella organisation for public sector bodies in Walsall and sought their agreement to it.
Now it’s in place when an incident develops we know what to do with Twitter. That’s a big improvement on 2011 and shows we are learning.
When the EDL and a counter demonstration was staged in Walsall we used this approach successfully.
Whatever the police do with social media we know we can do it better and more effectively when we join forces with Walsall Council and our partners.
by Superintendent Keith Fraser,
West Midlands Police, Walsall