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Over the last decade, we can see the growing popularity of the use of social media. With this comes the increased number of reasons to be using it rather than just for personal use. Because the medium is becoming more popular, there has been an increased presence of police departments taking advantage of it’s uses as well, especially on sites such as Facebook and Twitter. This article will be critically evaluating Police Presentational Strategies on Twitter in Canada (Schneider, 2014). It is necessary to assess how and why police officers are using twitter, as well as understand the audience they are reaching using this platform.
The article that is being evaluated is specific to police departments in Canada, mainly of the Toronto Police Service being that it is one of the most active departments on Twitter (Schneider, 2014). A main focal point of this article is image work, “or the process through which police maintain control via the media over the public perception as the legitimate authority” (Schneider, 2014). Officers must be mindful of what they are tweeting, on and off duty, to control their image in the public eye. All tweets being made have an effect, positive or negative, on the way police are perceived to the public which ties in with the existing desire for the police to develop stronger ties with the community (Schneider, 2014) which can be done using twitter because it is a medium for a discussion to be had between the public and officers. Another reason that police are growing in their online presence, is because it is expected of them.
The public now want to report and assist in solving criminal offences online. An online presence is crucial with modern technology because the public also expects to be informed about “incident and crime related information…and responses to public inquiries” (Schneider, 2014). The police might reach out to the public for information regarding information on missing persons, traffic information, or things of that nature. There are regulations that the officers must adhere to when being online that restrict officers to speak in the areas which they are knowledgeable about, keeping in mind that they are always a reflection of the Service and must not comment on policy, procedures, and, as later outlined in the article, must not comment on politics. This would be in violation of police professionalism, even when off-duty, as some is when some officers tweeted regularly. Officers engage with the public even when they are on their own personal time, demonstrating their eagerness to develop a healthy relationship with the community and humanize themselves. Another way that officers humanize themselves is by posting about their personal lives on twitter regarding topics such as family events and sports—especially hockey.
This is just another way that officers seek conversation with the public. Officers are also humanized by allowing, if not encouraging, the public to address them by their first names. Schneider (2014) assessed police usage of twitter and effectively demonstrated that officers are always being monitored, even when they are off duty. They are to adhere to strict guidelines when making a presence online in order to maintain a good, professional image. Although needing to remain professional, officers to make attempts at humanizing themselves using Twitter. Regardless of the attempts that officers make to humanize themselves by using twitter, the public will never truly get to know them as a person because of this idea that “Individuals thus engage in performances tweak[ing] their behaviour and selectively giv[ing] off details, a process…termed ‘impression management’” (Hogan, 2010). Parallels can be drawn with image work as discussed by Schneider (2014) because police must manage what they post so that they maintain a legitimate image of authority over the public. Officers now must present a Goffman’s idea of a front stage, “an idealized version of the self according to a specific role” (Hogan, 2010) while they are off duty, in addition to being on duty because there is so much engagement with the public in both states. Hogan (2010) writes that “anywhere can be a back stage to another front stage” which is precisely true in this case. Surely you will not be seeing the public seeking out officers to discuss things such as tattoos and mental health when they are on duty, but they will during the #copchat every Wednesday at 9pm, demonstrating that officers may be more approachable online than in person which would rely on the front stage performance they are putting up.
Aside from the more casual uses of twitter, police officers also use twitter to notify the public about incidents in their community, current local activity, and things of that nature (Crump, 2011) which citizens give their input with the reasoning that it “may enhance an organizations effectiveness” (Grimmelikhuijsen and Albert, 2015; Ruddell and Jones, 2013). Thus, strengthening the tie between officers and the public, which is the goal of using social media to begin with (Beshears, 2016; Crump, 2011; Ruddell and Jones, 2013). Needless to say, Twitter is not an effective medium for reaching different demographics, placing importance of knowing the audience it does reach. Ruddell and Jones (2013) conclude that “(18-24-year-olds) was the most likely to access the Twitter feed”. Therefore, the ones participating in the #copchat discussions and wanting to reach out to officers using Twitter are from the younger generation which might be attributed to their culture placing more of an emphasis on having an online presence. There is reason that the police must remain current and know how to address the different demographics (Grimmelikhuijsen and Albert, 2015; Beshears, 2016). It is noteworthy that Twitter is not reaching the entire population, but it is effective in contacting those who are familiar with the program. It is well received that in order for police officer’s use of Twitter to be effective they must encourage feedback from the public, searching to expand their means of communication (Grimmelikhuijsen and Albert, 2015; Beshears, 2016; Crump, 2011).
Schneider (2014) clearly illustrates that the TPS does this effectively by encouraging the public to ask questions and stay informed with what is occurring in the community. Twitter can be an effective mode of communication between police officers and the public. It provides a platform to have an open discussion about various topics. Some of these topics may not be directly related to policing but are still discussed because officers evidently enjoy humanizing themselves to the public, giving insight to their back stage. It may never be the case of knowing the true back stage of police officers because they are to adhere to strict guidelines to which they post online meaning that they are just displaying a different front stage than they would while being on duty. Police officers must bare in mind the demographic that they are reaching using Twitter because it does not reach the entire population. This would alter the input received from the public since this is found to be one of the key reasons the public enjoys having a police presence on Twitter. There are benefits of police services utilizing social media platforms but they must proceed being knowledgeable about the audience they are reaching their expectations.
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