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Social media

Hong Kong police advised by foreign counterparts to engage public through social media

Boston Police Department and Queensland Police Service say online platforms can be tools to dispel falsehoods and connect with communities

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 February, 2017, 12:18am
UPDATED : Monday, 27 February, 2017, 12:18am

Police departments should use social media to provide accurate public safety information while being mindful not to spread fear, Boston officers have advised their Hong Kong counterparts.

The message was shared by the Boston Police Department (BPD) at a symposium in Hong Kong last week, where police representatives from across the globe discussed using social media to engage with the community and counter misinformation online.

During the Boston Marathon bombings in April 2013 which killed three and injured several hundred, the BPD said they used Twitter to correct a media story that erroneously stated the two individuals responsible were in custody.

Such channels allowed police to get information “out to the masses quickly and accurately”, Michael McCarthy, BPD director of media relations, said.

But he also admitted that some of the department’s social media posts during the height of the incident may have unintentionally “instilled a lot of fear in people”.

“Some of the tweets that went out originally were a little bit insensitive,” he said, pointing to one that simply listed the number of casualties.

“Our job is not to instil fear. As police officers, as police departments, your job is to calm fear.”

In Queensland, Australia, social media was used to dispel myths during mass flooding incidents between December 2010 and January 2011, which affected at least 90 towns and more than 200,000 people.

The Queensland Police Service (QPS) used the Twitter hashtag #mythbusters to dispel falsehoods such as the inaccurate death toll from the flooding.

Our job is not to instil fear. As police officers, as police departments, your job is to calm fear
Michael McCarthy, director of media relations, Boston Police Department

“We were actually able to limit the spread of those rumours because people saw us as being a credible source,” Simon Kelly, QPS director of media and public affairs, said.

Kelly added that the police moved quicker than the media to dispel rumours.

Hong Kong’s police force is newer to the social media scene, having joined Facebook in October 2015, but representatives said they would use the platform more following the MTR firebombing earlier this month that left 19 injured.

They also used social media during the Mong Kok riots last February and to disseminate information to the public about security last May during the visit of Zhang Dejiang, the chairman of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee.

The force has 13 people in its public relations department, responsible for social media and administrative work. Three members are responsible for the police Facebook page.

In addition to providing public safety information, Kelly said social media was a tool to positively engage with the community and for the public to help police solve crimes.

Earlier this month, the QPS posted a viral video of an officer frying an egg on his vehicle during a heat wave, garnering 3.3 million views.

The BPD tweeted a tongue-in-cheek photo on Valentine’s Day with a play on words that said: “‘Police’ be mine”.

Last September, Hong Kong police performed a parody of the Japanese hit song Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen to encourage people to wear seat belts, although it was widely ridiculed online.

Tensions in Hong Kong between police and the public have been high following the issuing of two-year prison sentences to seven officers who beat up protester Ken Tsang Kin-chiu during the 2014 Occupy movement.

More than 30,000 police union members rallied in support of the jailed officers last week, while many internet users took to the force’s Facebook page to denounce that movement as “shocking and shameful”.