Editor's Viewpoint: Social media is a vital tool for the police, but lessons have had to be learned about how it can be mishandled
There are obvious reasons why the PSNI would want to use social media platforms.
Used responsibly, these platforms are a great way of interacting with groups of people who ordinarily would be beyond the everyday reach of the police. They are also useful for giving out and receiving information quickly.
Through the use of social media, the PSNI can also make people aware of all the services it provides and, as happened recently in Belfast when officers became aware of an arranged fight between groups of young people, its officers were able to intervene pro-actively and prevent any breach of the peace.
Such advantages are a boon to a force which has been operating at below strength and which has been subjected to severe budget restrictions in recent years.
With fewer officers on the ground and fewer stations operating around the clock, social media can be an invaluable tool in gaining a quick response to a problem or highlighting it to a local community.
Unfortunately, the PSNI left itself open to criticism by operating its social media accounts on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and Instagram for six years without proper safeguards, guidelines or training in place. An internal report concluded that the force had left itself open to reputational damage as a result.
It is important these deficiencies in the way the social media accounts were operated were identified and highlighted to management within the force. The PSNI is one of the biggest account operators in Northern Ireland with more than one million followers and, quite properly, those operating it have all now undergone training. A strategy has also been put in place for the use of the various platforms.
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This should enable the PSNI to further interact with all sides of the community in the neutral environment online and, as happened with the ill-judged comments of Sinn Fein President Mary-Lou McDonald on the search for a new Chief Constable, to quickly reject unwarranted criticism.