The Metropolitan Police admits it was outmanoeuvred by the fluidity of social media, but it still ignores them. There is no nationwide BBM PIN for well meaning BlackBerry owners to contact police and Twitter remains alien to many forces. Most notable is @metpoliceuk, which has made 565 tweets in two years (many in the last few days) and it is a broadcast only account having no interaction with the public. There are exceptions, but for every good example there is a rotten egg. (update: credit to @gmpolice for excellent Twitter use in the last 24 hours). That said even the best examples come largely in reaction to the riots rather than having been in place long before them. If social media is being recognised as the tool of choice for lawbreakers, it needs to be one of the weapons of choice for law enforcement.
The same should be said for politicians, but sadly this looks the most forlorn. It is said you lead by example, but in this case there is no worse example than David Cameron. “The trouble with Twitter, the instantness of it – too many twits make a tw*t” he glibly joked in an interview with Absolute Radio in 2009. Two years later the joke rings hollow yet his comments this week suggest his understanding hasn’t improved. Cameron and the Conservatives are far from alone. It was Labour who showed its misunderstanding of Internet usage with the Digital Economy Act and Shadow Culture Secretary Ivan Lewis says he supports a review to “prevent abuse of social media”. Understanding social media would help him realise such generalisations are unworkable in reality.
Besides what would a clampdown entail? The last saw Paul Chambers sentenced in court in November after posting a tweet to a friend threatening to blow up Robin Hood airport. “I wouldn’t have minded if they had told me off for being stupid, which was clearly how they saw things really, but it wasn’t like that” said Chambers after losing his appeal.
So with no evidence of a learning curve we are forced to brace ourselves and hope for the best. With the world’s largest social network launching BBM rival Facebook Messenger this week and Apple preparing similar service iMessage for release in September the number of options available to potential trouble makers will only increase. For the powers that be ignorance is no longer an option.