This thesis aims to explore police use of social media and how it can be used to benefit public engagement within the community. The social media platforms mentioned in this thesis include Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and TikTok, all mentions of followers were correct at the time of writing. Furthermore, the use of social media for engagement purposes will also be explored as well as an analysis of police social media misconduct cases and how this has impacted community engagement. Finally, the exploration of social media as an intelligence-gathering tool within policing and how this in hand with community engagement can be used to its full benefit.
Since 2008, policing has experimented with the use of social media with the initial aims of increasing confidence within police forces and the overall effectiveness of police response to all types of crimes (Crump, 2011). The first chapter of this thesis will explore the methods of engagement via social media from all policing professionals and critically analyze the current levels of public engagement across all police forces. The importance of the police being used as an organization will be explored from the viewpoint of acting within the community's best interests paying reference to social norms and online social media culture that encourages cancel culture and the ignorance of mental health especially within the police service. The College of Policing will be referred to throughout this first chapter allowing for the importance of community engagement within policing to be fully highlighted. (College of Policing, 2022). The first chapter will also display the current figures of police forces' social media online following across two platforms: Facebook and Twitter (A1, A2). Furthermore, this first chapter will explore the future recommendations for policing with regard to community engagement across multiple generations online and how this can be improved based on past and current recommendations made by various policing professional regulators including the HMIC (HMIC, 2017) and The Policing Foundation (The Policing Foundation, 2022).
The second chapter of this thesis aims to explore the current issues surrounding police social media misconduct and how this can influence police effectiveness and public engagement across various online social media platforms (Goldsmith, 2013). Another element this second chapter will explore is the issue of officer vulnerability and how the promotion of social media trends and toxic cultures can lead to the ignorance of police officers' mental health in the public. The ability to form strong public relationships is severely affected by officer social media misconduct and has led to the exploration of restrictions that this has had on community engagement both offline and online. Paying reference to the guidelines set by The Professional Standards Department, the guidelines for appropriate social media usage by officers have been closely studied and have enabled the exploration of repetitive patterns of misconduct within policing. Chapter 2 will also focus on the issue of racist, sexist, and homophobic officers having access to their own social media accounts and the damage that publicly shared opinions can have on a community's trust and confidence in the police.
In the final chapter of this thesis, the integration of digital information gathering within policing will be explored. (Fortin and Delle Donne, 2021). The use of social media by police will be explored based on intelligence gathering and the impact that this can have on criminal investigations. Through the exploration of using social media as a policy tool, the strategical advantages will be outlined and explored further, using gang culture, rioting, terrorism, and anti-social behavior as examples of crime, this chapter will explore the use of social media as a tool to prove intent within a court setting as well as the benefits this brings to police at an operational standpoint. The final element of Chapter 3 will explore the advantages of social media used by police during a missing persons investigation and how joint community elements can enhance police operations and engagement overall.
Chapter 1 will draw upon various academic resources to build an evaluation across the topic of police and community engagement via social media. A crucial professional body that has been well referred to throughout this first chapter is the works of the 'College of Policing' (College of Policing, 2022). The guidelines provided by the College of Policing have been invaluable throughout this research paying specific attention to the 'Code of Ethics' and the 'Engagement' PDFs accessed through their website. The reasoning for this source is the level of credibility it brings due to their authorized professional practice and outlining of good practice within policing which has been vital for a full analysis of police engagement via social media. The 'College of Policing website has allowed access to all code of conduct guidelines as well as media relations which has particularly aided me during a full analysis of police social media usage. Another crucial academic journal referenced within Chapter 1 is the works of Jeremy Crump 'What Are the Police Doing on Twitter? Social Media, the Police, and the Public' (Crump, 2011).
Furthermore, this article has provided insight into the ambitious, political agenda set by the Association of Chief Police Officers with regard to the promotion of social media and its integration into local policing. Furthermore, Crump's article has allowed for a true analysis of the limitations of social media policy engagement including the constraints of police culture. On the other hand, a small limitation to the thoroughness of this article is the lack of a range of social media platforms within its analysis. The article solely focuses on Twitter as opposed to the variety of social media networks that police use daily. Additionally, chapter 1 has also benefitted from the works of Miriam Fernandez, Thomas Dickinson, and Harith Alani, allowing for its comparison of its own analysis of police-community engagement with their article on 'UK Policing Engagement via Social Media' (Fernandez, Dickinson, and Alani, 2017). This article has enabled the exploration of ineffective engagement via social media and how this can lead to broken community relationships, a drawback of this research through no fault of its own is the date of publication. As this article is from 2017, there have been many changes to policing social media policies, and therefore requires more recent statistics for its accuracy.
The second chapter will explore the issue of police social media misconduct and will therefore derive from the guidance put forward by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC, 2022). The IOPC has allowed for Chapter 2 to include relevant, recent cases of online misconduct via social media including official warnings from professional policing bodies about the dangers this poses to the public. The credibility that the IOPC brings as a source is heavily reliable and has allowed for official complaints publication made accessible for public viewing including cases of racism, homophobia, victim abuse, and online misconduct. Furthermore, the IOPC as a source for official complaints has brought a sense of realism to this chapter about the severity of police social media misconduct and the effect that this has had on community engagement, trust, and confidence. Secondly, a source that has been used hand-in-hand with the IOPC is the Association of Chief Police Officers and Ministry of Defense Police who have constructed the guidelines for social media police conduct; 'GUIDELINES ON THE SAFE USE OF THE INTERNET AND SOCIAL MEDIA BY MDP OFFICERS' also applying to all police staff (Ministry of Defense Police, 2013). Additionally, chapter 2 has derived conclusions about engagement and the effects of social media misconduct based on reports published by the HMIC (HMIC, 2012). The report 'Police has made some improvements to how it identifies, monitors and manages integrity issues' has allowed for past recommendations to be analyzed and compared with recent guidelines to find a lack of improvement across all forces in terms of social media misuse by police officers. A criticism of this source would be its age; however, this source is still very relevant in drawing conclusions on the level of police social media conduct and its improvement over the years.
To assess the effectiveness of social media as a tool for intelligence building within policing, chapter 3 has drawn upon the works of multiple academics. This third chapter has taken a more academic approach as opposed to statistics and figures which have been mentioned briefly, the focus has been more on the use of social media as a cultural tool in identifying themes and patterns within crime. A particular article; 'Innovation and Policing: Factors Influencing the Adoption of Social Medias by Members of Quebec Police Organizations' allowed for social media to be used to find the intent behind a crime, when looking at gang culture and online patterns, the initial reasoning behind a crime becomes apparent (Delle Donne and Fortin, 2018). This source has enabled research into the technology adoption amongst the public and how social media trends can aid police in intelligence gathering. A second source used a handful of times throughout chapter 3 is the works of Antonius and Rich through their report on 'Discovering collection and analysis techniques for social media to improve public safety' (Antonius and Rich, 2013). This report has enabled the identification of themes and patterns across terrorist activity via social media and how policing can be adapted to improve the safety of the public through the analysis of these online patterns during information gathering. A limitation presented in this source is the heavily based research on non-terrorism case studies which have left little room for analysis. A variety of government sources and case studies have also been used within this chapter including the' riots 2011' and the '2017 Bridge Attack' and how social media for intelligence purposes have led to multiple successes also benefitting through the involvement of the community.
This thesis has been constructed with both primary and secondary research throughout, the fluidity of research between both methods has enabled thorough research from multiple perspectives and sources. The primary research, although more time-consuming, has enabled conversations with real people including conducting an interview with West Midlands Chief Inspector Rodney Rose, where his viewpoints on police social media usage provided multiple thinking points for the gaps within this research. This use of secondary research allowed for a gap to be filled where an opinion from a policing professional was needed to further enhance the limitations of police social media usage. A piece of primary research that helped conduct a comparison across forces was the table of followers for police across Facebook and Twitter social media platforms as this had not been done for every police force before. Another example of primary research that felt necessary to include was a small local survey, although limited by the small number of participants, the gap within local research could be estimated through various responses given. Another method of research heavily used throughout this thesis is secondary research, drawing on the works of academic literature, journals, articles, and news reports has enabled the comparison and contrast throughout all sources to gain a stronger idea of the current state of police engagement via social media. This mixed method approach has allowed for a comprehensive analysis of all sources further exploring original works and filling gaps.