Friday, August 3, 2012

Going viral

I participated in a very interesting discussion yesterday with Capt. Michael Parker, who heads media relations at the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office, and Edward Flynn, Milwaukee's Chief of Police.  The topic was "going viral"--stories that explode into the public space, propelled not so much by the news media, as by social media.  This is a relatively new phenomenon in policing, and one that we've had our own experiences with in Lincoln.

Viral outbreaks like this are challenging in policing, where we are accustomed to playing our hand mighty cautiously as an investigation unfolds, or as the facts are assembled.  Chief Flynn put it well when he said, "One thing I've learned is that the early reports are usually wrong." The problem with a viral story, though, is that it moves so fast, often before you've been able to flesh out the details, and craft a response.

Both Capt. Parker and Chief Flynn recommended the proactive use of social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, and department news feeds to try to get the department's information out quickly, from an authoritative source, rather than simply be buffeted by the winds of incomplete information, rumor and innuendo spreading unchecked across cyberspace.  


Steve said...

It's the next terrorism threat, causing riots through false reports going viral.

Nebraskim said...

I agree with the gentleman from California. Does LPD/LFD use Twitter as communications channel? You may want to explore this. As more and more people no longer get their news from TV, radio or newspaper, but instead rely on social media, Twitter is going to be a primary communications channel (and yes, I work in the media/communications industry). Last spring when the tornado sirens went off by accident, I first turned on my weather radio, found nothing, then TV, nothing, then Twitter/Facebook. People were posting and questioning and a few minutes later Channel 8 confirmed it as an error and then Twitter/Facebook started reporting that out. You cannot control what people say, but you need to have an authoritative voice in the message stream.

Steve said...

I don't "tweet" or "like" because I never found a need for anything outside of more traditional news outlets. However, given that the print media, and even television and radio, are so slow compared to online sources, I found myself frequenting LJS and other Internet outlets more and more. Now, many of them, including LJS, are not content with advertising revenue and want to charge consumers directly for access. This is making social media even more appealing. Still, I would never trust the accuracy of posts by someone I don't know . Even trusted sources don't always get it right. I'm not sure of the importance of social media to the police department, but given our fearless leader's commitment to technology, I'm sure he'll react appropriately. :)

Anonymous said...

News media are a bunch of people who tell you what you want to hear.