Mick Clocherty: Why fluffy social media use from our police forces is bad in the long run

Writer Mick Clocherty says social media's 'like and share' culture risks us giving too much of a free pass to authority

MEMES are everywhere. Everything from the top tier politics to your local kebab shop use them to convey a message on social media. 

Half-priced chicken kebab? Picture of a creepy frog. Worst president ever? Picture of the chubby comic book nerd from The Simpsons. They've somehow passed through the deepest darkest recesses of the internet and into the public consciousness. 

Can you remember the last time when you scrolled through your newsfeed without seeing one? Is it just me?

If you thought hashtag culture had reached its lowest point with the trend of people sending virtual likes to pictures of each other's dinner, it gets far worse than that: local police forces are, increasingly, getting in on the act.

If you thought hashtag culture had reached its lowest point with the trend of people sending virtual likes to pictures of each other's dinner, it gets far worse than that: local police forces are, increasingly, getting in on the act.

On 5 January, Kingston-Upon-Thames police tweeted a sarcastic notice, along with a picture of a suspected burglar. Basically, the notice implored people to share the picture around in a bid to get the alleged offender into police custody, and featured lines like: "We have a slight suspicion that you might be blanking us #Awkward. You don't text, you don't call back and haven't even accepted our friend request :("

Now, obviously there's a good reason that there is a warrant for the suspect's arrest, but this kind of public shaming is problematic, not least because they haven't been charged yet. There's a very slippery slope when it comes to parading around mugshots of the poor and desperate for public derision, you can learn more about it from the latest episode of Black fucking Mirror.

I'm not saying the police shouldn't use social media at all, in fact it's probably a good way for people to get in touch with them to provide information in relation to crimes or for general enquiries. 

Personally, though, I'd like to see their output reduced to something more dry and factual: witness appeals, traffic diversions and warnings about general public safety and wellbeing. Essentially, how they behaved with the media prior to the invention of Twitter.

The problem is that there's now a worrying amount of police force 'banter' on social media pages. Truly witty stuff. Putting up notices asking for people to tag the best local drug dealers and tweeting football fans about last minute goal robbery. 

Ignore the facts about cannabis legalisation, or the fact that a working class boy attending a football match with a drink in him is far more likely to receive an arrest than a banker robbing your country blind. Like and share. 

Look at the funny video of the police officer using a shield as a sledge on a snowy day; ignore the fact that the same shields are used to break noses during peaceful demonstrations. Like and share. 

Look at the funny video of the police officer using a shield as a sledge on a snowy day; ignore the fact that the same shields are used to break noses during peaceful demonstrations. Like and share. 

Check out this legend of a police officer joining in with people doing a conga without arresting and beating everyone; ignore the times when they actually do arrest and beat everyone. Like and share.

When authority steps onto an online platform, it's often treading into an area it lacks a fundamental understanding of. The level of anonymity afforded online, with a few careful steps, can provide a feeling of invincibility. 

It's a place where teenagers tell people they'll kill their family over arguments about Ariana Grande, simply because they can. Trolling notwithstanding, this makes it the logical platform for keeping those in power in check. 

Citizen journalism has proven to be an incredibly effective tool against police abuse, and has led to increasing public support for ideas like police wearing body cameras. 

We need less selfies of drunks taken with cops wearing their police hats, and more videos of unwarranted stop and searches. It's time to make those in power feel #awkward.

A study from The University of Cambridge found that complaints by members of the public against police officers dropped by 93 per cent when the officers were wearing body cameras. In other words, cops behave better when we watch them. Really watch them. 

The difference in reaction from law enforcement between being filmed at a demonstration and being asked for a drunken selfie in front of the squad car is quite telling.

Using social media as a policing tool is a murky area, but we need consensus on the fact that it should come without the public shaming. In terms of their public output, the police are using social media as a propaganda machine, and we're letting them. 

The only time you should be sharing pictures and videos featuring the police with your wider social group is when you're sharing footage of their misuse of power and the regular injustices carried out by them. 

We need less selfies of drunks taken with cops wearing their police hats, and more videos of unwarranted stop and searches. It's time to make those in power feel #awkward.

Pictures courtesy of Twitter

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