Perhaps you saw this tweet on Wednesday, April 17th:
Despite reports to the contrary there has not been an arrest in the Marathon attack. @Boston_Police
To their credit, despite trying to manage a chaotic week in their city, Boston Police were on top of monitoring social media. The agency was able to quickly jump on Twitter and renounce misinformation.
Perhaps you also saw a tweet like this coming shortly afterwards:
#CNN is reporting that#letsgetitright has won the 2013 Kentucky Derby! You heard it here first. @The_LifeofRiley (tweeted 4-18, two weeks before the Derby)
It's funny to read but addresses a very real and serious issue we in law enforcement need to confront in this day of instant, fragmented release of news. It may not be factual.
It was very reassuring to read in an article posted April 18th on examiner.com
Follow the Boston Police Department on Twitter @Boston_Police
and the FBI @FBIPressoffice
for the most accurate information on the Boston Marathon bombings.
For those following the coverage of the tragic Boston Marathon bombings, we’re seeing major media using incident photos that have been doctored (an interesting topic for discussion but not on this blog), Internet media allegedly joining the effort to collect images to help law enforcement identify a suspect, and as usual, while waiting for more facts from credible sources, lots of speculation on just what surrounding events like hospital evacuations might mean (as of the writing of this blog).
What’s good is, thanks to their efficient release and monitoring of information via social media, the relevant law enforcement agencies have emerged as the leading sources of credible information, something that before the use of social media tools, may not have been appreciated.
What’s tough is the work it takes to get there. The lesson for the rest of us
- build audiences before the crisis. Boston Police Department was tweeting about road closures, parking, even the starting time of the Boston Red Sox game prior to the marathon tragedy. They established their presence and reliability with citizens and the media before the emergency.
Stay present in a crisis. Even when we have no additional “news” to release, a constant presence is reassuring for people. Continue to let people know “we’re on the case” and most importantly, “we’re on the case because we care.”
Monitoring who is saying what about our investigations and whether it’s reckless or well-meaning, correct those who spread seriously flawed information. We may have just minutes to stop the spread of information that could have a negative impact on an important investigation. False information may also spread fear and needless alarm.
Despite Boston Police Department's clarification that no arrest had been made, the story is so high-profile, the news had already been widely reported. But people are realizing that all they see on social media, even from typically reliable, respected mainstream news outlets may not be accurate. That’s the media’s issue to grapple with. And they are.
For our part, police agencies must do our best to be responsive, reliable, and always professional. Thanks to social media, we are now news sources, looked to increasingly from a public for believes us and wants to believe in us.
Kudos to Boston Police Department and the FBI Press Offices for the excellent work their doing under what have to be extreme pressures. Good luck to both agencies with the investigation and for helping build public confidence thanks to the responsible release of information.