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Should Sussex Police be following people on Twitter?

Sussex Police has this week been criticised for following people on Twitter, which is seen by some as big brother online action.

Brighton’s Stephen Webber, who was being followed by Sussex Police’s Twitter account, said “it just seems like it’s Big Brother going too far” in a report by the BBC.

However, Sussex Police‘s Christine Smith has responded to the concerns by saying: “We use Twitter to engage with the community in a really immediate way. It’s really helpful for us because we can allay any fears or rumours going round.”

Sussex Police chief inspector Laurence Taylor, who is also an active Twitter user, has stated on the social media site: “People obviously do want to follow #Sussex Police on Twitter as the numbers of my followers keep increasing.”

Twitter users can block people from viewing their Tweets, but surely if the police force were really interested in any suspect Tweeting they’d be a tad more discreet than to use such an obvious account, so is there really anything to be up upset about?

Sussex Police are open about their online presence and appear to doing so for the greater good.

Please let us know if you would like to comment on this story.

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Posted by on May 14, 2010. Filed under Brighton and Hove News,News From Brighton Comment. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

6 Responses to Should Sussex Police be following people on Twitter?

  1. Chris Postle

    May 14, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    Isn’t this the same thing as having marked CCTV vans around the city? Yes it’s police surveillance, but you can block their Twitter account if you don’t want them seeing what you’re tweeting. Besides, if you’re dumb enough to post incriminating evidence in the public arena you’re asking to get caught.

  2. Jon

    May 14, 2010 at 5:34 pm

    It’s right that the Police need to be where their audience are.
    I’m being “followed” by some of the Sussex cops, I’m following them, that’s only fair.
    Twitter is a bit like a digital megaphone, when you participate, you shout and whoever is interested can listen.

    “Tweeters” can make their messages private and can block people from following them.

    It’s been really useful to counter mis-information spread by idiots such as the EDL during disturbances. Great blog post about that here:

  3. Bones

    May 15, 2010 at 1:45 am

    A fatuous and rather stupid complaint and accusation as all that Stephen Webber had to do was to ‘block’ Sussex Police and thus prevent the ‘follow’.

    In any case, anything put on twitter is in the public domain and there for all to read, why else does Mr Webber ‘tweet’? Police (or anyone else) can view what anyone tweets without having to ‘Follow’ them.

    A more interesting and perhaps pertinent question is why are Sussex Police claiming to use social networking sites such as Twiitter to ‘engage’ the public?

    Sussex Police know the issues that concern and affect the public and state that they are doing what they can with the resources they have. Hearing the same concerns from the public via a social network site is unlikely to solicit a better response from police.

    But it might just ’cause’ more police officers to spend more time in the police stations, updating their websites, Face Book pages or tweeting? Or am I being naive?

    More patrolling is what the public want.

  4. Dan

    May 15, 2010 at 11:11 am

    @Bones – Things like Twitter feed and Facebook pages are usually handled by a PR or Comms department within a Police force, not by Neighbourhood officers. If Sussex are anything like other forces I know of, there will be a small number of civilian staff members who are dedicated to PR, liason with the press, putting out appeals, looking after the website, and suchlike, and they’ll deal with the social networking output. I doubt the use of Twitter is costing anything more than about 15 minutes of a civilian staff member’s time each day – its certainly not using up resources in any way worth getting excited about. I think the use of social networking by police forces is a nice idea – many forces have put appeals on their website for a long time, but, being realistic, how many people regularly check their local force’s website for such appeals? Putting them out via Twitter/Facebook/whatever seems like a good idea to me.

    I think it’s a bit immature of Mr Webber to go to the press with this – I’m sure he’s not stupid, he knows how Twitter works and that following people is what you do on Twitter. I’ve got lots of police officers following me through both force accounts and personal accounts – it doesn’t bother me. Anything I post on Twitter is public /anyway/, so if the police were carrying out some dodgy ‘Big Brother’ style surveillance operation, you’d think they firstly wouldn’t even bother following him, and secondly, if they were to follow him, they wouldn’t be so idiotic as to follow him from an account called ‘sussex_police’.

    Anybody can see exactly who is following them on Twitter, and you get an email telling you when you have a new follower, so I don’t see anything in the least bit shady about the Force’s actions – they are using an account which clearly identifies them, Mr Webber can see they are following him, gets an email telling him so, and is free to block them should he feel the need.

    Frivilous attempts to create trouble for the police over nothing undermine the good work they do, both generally in policing the community, and more specifically in their work keeping up with new media and using the internet for community outreach and communications.

  5. Pingback: QuickTwit: Five ways to increase followers for police tweeps « Triple two one

  6. Pingback: QuickTwit: Seven ways to increase followers for police tweeps « Christine Townsend

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