Followers were confused over the tweet, unsure as to whether the whole account was a hoax or if their online confessions actually counted for anything. I relayed these points to the police, who assured me that the tweet was made in jest and that the majority of followers took it that way.
GMP Salford West’s Twitter account was set up with the intention of increasing communication with the local community. Twitter enables the police to keep followers informed of potential safety issues, appeals and the like, and gives the public an easy way to communicate with the police without having to make a phone call or visit a local police station.
Whilst undeniably effective, the account seems to suffer from a case of multiple personality disorder, with the tone switching back and forth between formal and absurd. In addition to the now infamous drugs tweet, the department came under fire for advising victims of online bullying to yield to their tormentors and “follow these instructions: 1. Delete your account”. Perhaps they would also like victims of sexual assaults to stop wearing short skirts, and old ladies to stop looking so easy to mug. Those pesky grannies!
Likely enamoured by the large number of re-tweets his whimsical comments were receiving, one unnamed policeman was in fact stopped from using the account after posting song lyrics, jokes about pop stars and complaining about the price of Maltesers.
Whilst some of the criticism Salford West’s social media policies have received have been justified, it is important not to overlook their successes. In 2013, they won the prize for Innovation at the UK Social Media Communication Awards for the development of their app that uses geo-location data to provide users with information about local police stations, policing teams, appeals and wanted and missing people. They’ve also run a number of online question and answer sessions, giving the public an opportunity to raise any concerns they might have.
Increasing communication between communities and their local police is in essence a great idea, but one that could potentially backfire if not handled with great care. Whilst many including myself will have found the drugs tweet to be entertaining, there are many others whose friends and family are serving time in jail for drugs possession charges – activities that are barely any different to having a few bevies. Whilst these draconian drug laws are still in place and being enforced, Salford GMP should be careful about making jokes on the issue, because when it comes to drugs enforcement, the police are perceived as being the misguided henchmen of a corrupt establishment, and not the protectors of society that they should be.