Alan Meban, otherwise known as AlaninBelfast (@alaninbelfast) interviewed the Chief Constable of the PSNI Matt Bagott, in mid-April 2013 on social media and the rule of law. Here's what he asked:
Social media is a policing tool as well as a source of crime. Are we going to see a big increase in the number of arrests for online hate crimes and other offenses?
"I think social media gives people the opportunity to be foolish in the sense they don’t have to think so much about what they’re saying and the impact of that. How the law applies to social media is something that has had to be looked at in quite some detail in the past year. In England and Wales the Crown Prosecution Service only got to public guidance at the end of last year, 2012. So we’ve taken that guidance.
At the moment what we’re doing is if we get what we think are offences being committed on social media we will report those to the Public Prosecution Service who will make the prosecutorial decisions. And we have prosecuted some people. But for what some people think is offensive, under the law may not be criminal, and that’s that gap. We’ve taken the guidance from England and Wales, the PPS are looking at that here at the moment, and where we do have overt offences we will pursue them but the laws not quite so straightforward as people think it might be."Alan Meban then broke from the transcript, added some commentary and referred to an earlier interview with Bagott which you can read here. In reference to the earlier interview Alan said that it had raised some interesting responses. In the commentary Alan said: "a few people picked on the Chief Constable’s mention of seven people being employed to work on PSNI social networking (There are numerous area-based Twitter and Facebook accounts. The PSNI suggests that across their Twitter accounts they have amassed 175,000 followers, “the greatest number of any other police”)." This is what the readers on sluggerotoole.com were responding to:
"And I guess to some degree that stands alongside colleagues have been doing here around communication. Because I think one of the other great advances of policing is to communicate what we’re doing. We’re nowhere near where we want to be yet, but we employ seven people locally to work on the social media side. We’ve got Twitter, blogs, and on top of that I’m reporting personally as the Chief Constable through every letterbox every three months. And the feedback from that has been very, very positive indeed.
We’re trying to get out there more to explain, not just in a mechanistic way, but really explain what we’re about and why we’re doing it."Alan Meban then asked: Is there any proof yet that PSNI activity online is an effective means of communication and brings results.
"I’m not sure. I think people go onto Twitter. They go onto the blogs now. Just look at people in the street looking at their iPhones, accessing social media to see that communication in the future is much more about that. We can’t afford to be behind the times. People have a thirst for policing, they have a thirst for knowledge. We need to get information out there. Sometimes that’s critical in terms of protecting life.
We do have a down side which is rumours can spread very quickly. There’s been some cases where someone fears for example abduction, puts the wrong vehicle out there, it gets changed, it gets morphed, and before you know where you are if you’re not careful you’ve got mob rule. And that’s a worry to us, particularly in emotive crimes. But we have to live in the social media."Alan interjected again. He said: "It doesn't sound like the Chief Constable will be getting his own Twitter account soon. He worries that social media could push the police towards “giving opinions as opposed to fact and view and sometimes explanation”. He’s also mindful that in other forces, individual police offices have “almost become celebrities in their own right”.
"… if you’re not careful you almost get sucked into being the inner thoughts of Matt Baggott rather than do we have confidence in the Chief’s impartiality and the fact that he lets others speak for him when it’s more appropriate rather than putting out messages that may more be about just my own ego. We’re not celebrities. We are police officers. We have to get that balance right."The transcript as it appeared on Slugger O'Toole can be read here. The raw interview in full can be read here.
Alan Meban's audio recording of his interview with Matt Bagott on social media and the rule of law in Northern Ireland can be listened to below: