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Public Information in the Age of YouTube

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Simon Glik never foresaw his arrest in public for using his cell phone camera. Yet that’s exactly what occurred in October 2007. Glik walked near the Boston Common when, in an obvious drug arrest, he noticed three police officers squatting with a guy on a park bench. Hearing a bystander exclaim to the policemen, ‘You’re hurting him,’ Glik, a lawyer himself, decided to bring the camera application on his phone to use and record the encounter between police and citizens. After police arrested the suspect of the drug and put him in custody, they rapidly switched their attention to Glik and his cell phone, which they knew that afternoon contained a record of their conduct. The police seized the phone and detained Glik on allegations of illegal electronic surveillance, based on a state wiretap law that makes it a crime to record audio without the permission of a second party.

State wiretap laws have become something of an emerging trend to arrest citizen journalists who document police behavior. After a citizen filming officers using what he thought was unnecessary force to break up a party, a Boston man was arrested in December 2008. In 2010, after posting on YouTube footage of his own traffic stop captured by his helmet camera, a Maryland motorist was charged with violating state law. In June 2011, after filming a traffic stop from her own front lawn, a woman was arrested in Rochester, New York. After reading an article about African American drivers being dis-proportionately stopped by the police, she decided to record the encounter once she noticed that it was African Americans that was the driver of the stopped car and Caucasians were the traffic officers. These are but a few examples of police arresting people for engaging in what has become known as citizen journalism. The extent to which media effectively influence political behavior is one of the defining characteristics of contemporary culture. This happens through a reflexivity mechanism. Reflexivity is a method in which individuals change their behavior based on the assessments they have got about their behavior. This behavioral reshaping is often anticipatory and based on presumptive reactions. That is, according to previous evaluations, people and organizations plan future behaviors. For government authorities, these assessments arise from public opinion polls shaped by media coverage of their day-to-day behavior, and either this feedback changes their general performance, or it reinforces excellent performance. Media, in the first place, serves as a political force that shapes public opinion as well as government behavior.

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A number of agency-specific social, political, and budgetary factors affect the nature, shape, and ultimate success (or failure) of police administration when reviewing contemporary policing. Media are among the factors in shaping contemporary policing that play a crucial role. Police performances appear prominently every day in newspaper headlines, on nightly news broadcasts, and now more and more on social media websites like YouTube. Additionally, law enforcement in the media that news content analysis has shown that crime stories receive almost three-fold coverage as president, congress, or economy, with news coverage of criminal justice focusing primarily on police practices. With the increased availability of news via 24-hour cable channels and online news sites, police work stories continue to proliferate. While the police organization is often resistant to change, the development of new media at key points in police history has helped usher in periods of major police reform. It is interesting to note that the rise of the mass media closely parallels the rise of the first modern American police forces, both in the 1830s and 1840s making their initial appearances. In addition, each era of police reform was partially precipitated by advances in media technology that revealed limitations in law enforcement practices and threatened police work’s legitimacy. Therefore, new media exert a strong influence on police practices and contribute to police reform cycles. Early American police (1830–1931), as it became connected with political machines, was marked by corruption. The prevailing police strategy at the time called for close and personal ties to the community and a decentralized organizational structure when the first departments became fixtures of American cities in the mid-19th century. While this allowed police to become integrated into neighborhoods, police inefficiency, disorganization, and corruption were allowed by the lack of over-sight over officers. Police staff were political appointees, leading to partisanship both in law enforcement and election monitoring. Thus, the latter half of the 19th century found large city police departments governed by political machines and special interests where inefficiency, police corruption, and vice involvement became untuned realities.

In the absence of ethical norms, citizen journalism, and social media has the ability to spread misinformation and false allegations. This can be particularly difficult with coverage of law enforcement procedures in social media since the public often have misconceptions about the police. But this merely implies that police need to do a better job of informing the public about police procedures, particularly when police are the targets of cover-age critical news. Where police have traditionally avoided commenting in the press during accident or scandal periods, we have seen alternative voices dominating news commentary. Further, now that comment is increasingly coming from blogs and social media sites, police have little option but to inject themselves into the media spotlight when they become the story, or else they lose all government credibility. This may involve police to use the media to own their mistakes when headlines are bad and to encourage their success when headlines are nice. To this end, police can also choose to ‘create their own more interactive and participatory communication policies’ while making greater use of social media themselves. Simply put, the police must not prevent citizen journalism and social media if they wish to keep pub-like legitimacy; they must accept it or fall victim to it.

Citizen journalism and social media, like all fresh media technology, contribute to police responsibility. Virtually anyone with a cell phone and a personal computer can disseminate police performance data to the World Wide Web, establishing a dialog where problems such as police training, use of force, and police professionalism can be discussed openly. Unfortunately, some police organizations have not chosen warmly to be held responsible to the public they serve, and the technique of addressing citizen journalism by some organizations in the United States is similar to those used in non-democratic nations. While Egyptian blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah was captured by public authorities and jailed for 45 days for posting data and opinion on a website, in the United States, people who record police-citizen encounters and post this footage online are being detained and threatened with prison sentences ranging from 15 to 75 years. Additionally, it is unlikely that U.S. on the-scene policemen improvised the enforcement of state wiretap legislation on their own against citizen journalists. More probable, instruction on the use of such legislation came from higher up in the police organization suggesting that the arrest of citizen reporters would pre-vent police images from higher up in the police organization, or worse in the town or state government. There is something disconcerting about authorities celebrating the spread of citizen journalism overseas while taking measures at home to silence it. Today, the new news reporting paradigm is represented by citizen journalism and social media websites. A fresh challenge for law enforcement is understandably the potential of social media to take pictures of police straight to the public without first passing through state and institution media filters.

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Public Information in the Age of YouTube. (2022, Jun 09). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 1, 2023, from
“Public Information in the Age of YouTube.” Edubirdie, 09 Jun. 2022,
Public Information in the Age of YouTube. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 1 Feb. 2023].
Public Information in the Age of YouTube [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 09 [cited 2023 Feb 1]. Available from:
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