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Friday, July 30, 2010

Another View: Twitter and Facebook Deserve Police Use Too

By J. Michael Lomuscio

With Westport Police Deputy Chief Dale Call’s announcement that the department will begin issuing text message alerts to notify residents of downed trees and power lines, closed roads, and other traffic snags, Westporters will surely be able to save time behind the wheel and drive more safely during emergencies, too.

WestportNow.com Image

Putting in place the notification system, called Nixle, is a good step, and residents should sign up. The department’s plan however is missing a few components, namely Twitter and Facebook.

Chief Call decided against using these social media networks as notification platforms because of their Facebook’s accessibility and Twitter’s security, telling the Westport News:“The problem with Twitter is that it’s really easy to pretend to be somebody else. It can take very little effort for someone to pretend to be at the Westport police and send things out to people.”

He’s right to be cautious, but Twitter has taken a step to guard against these abuses by offering “Verified Accounts.” This system can establish the authenticity of government authorities so that users know who to trust - it’s something the department should consider.

Call is also right that Facebook posts won’t reach most Westporters (like older folks who don’t use the service, or users away from their computers), but effective social media campaigns don’t use just one platform for content distribution, they use them all.

Ideally, the Department should want common citizens to both “tweet” the Nixle traffic alerts and post them to their own Facebook pages. Inevitably, these new posts and tweets will be “shared” and “retweeted”, spreading to countless other Westporters faster than other form of media could distribute the news to as many people.

The Police Department can expedite this process by posting their alerts to these social media spaces themselves. Consider also the young age of the average Facebook user - isn’t the “new driver” exactly the type of person who should know about traffic snags before they head out on the road?

Regardless of whether the department employs social media as a tool to notify the public of public safety concerns, residents can already organize useful traffic detours and the like using Twitter (just be sure to pull over first over or have a passenger send the tweet!)

It would be best to use a common set of “hashtags” for tweets concerning disrupted traffic patterns following storms, floods, town events, etc.. These tags enable tweets on a specific subject (Westport traffic, in our case) to be compiled simply be searching for their common hashtag on Twitter’s homepage.

I propose we use the following hashtags: #wptroads, #open, #closed, and #bestroute.

#wptroads designates that the tweet concerns traffic in Westport. #open will designate roads that are clear for traffic; #closed for those that are blocked by downed lines or fallen trees.

#bestroute will be a suggestion of a clear path from one point to another. Here are some examples of tweets that would have been very useful to many drivers after the storm on the 22nd:

“#wptroads #closed Main st. at Gorham Ave.”

“#wptroads #open Weston Road”

And this one would have been especially helpful to me that night: “#wptroads #bestroute From CVS to Weston: Post Road, Long Lots, North Ave, Easton Road, Weston Road.”

With hundreds, if not thousands, of twitter users in Westport, the adoption of a common set of hashtags for traffic routing will reduce travel time and prevent potentially dangerous backups around road blockages. This system should prove very helpful to both the average driver and the Police Department.
J. Michael Lomuscio. a Weston resident, is a student in Pittsburgh where he is president of Bar Digital Group, a social media marketing firm.


Posted 07/30/10 at 03:30 AM  Permalink


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Sure, Twitter offers verified accounts, but the user has to be sophisticated enough to know the distinction. For the dangerous side of tweeting, I site the case of a friend’s daughter, a young singer-songwriter named Shontelle. She not only had several impersonators, but also had to deal with a serious time lag whilst waiting for Twitter to clear the matter up.

Nixle is trusted, secure and free, and sends both email and mobile phone alerts. It may not be a sexy social media delivery site, but we’re talking about the Westport police, not gossiping about how Elen DeGeneres has left American Idol.

Posted by Vici Reitano on July 30, 2010 at 11:09 AM | #

Mr. Lomuscio,

Thanks for offering a differing view on the use of social media by the Westport Police Department. Some of your points are valid and well-taken but there are other reasons we are using Nixle at this point in time. Going into most of them just didn’t seem necessary in a press release that was intended to invite residents to join.

Social media is very much a two-way flow of communication – and I believe that this is what people like about it so much. That said, as you point out we are correct to be cautious. We are being cautious. We deal with plenty of authenticated and/or verified services but we still see people falling for unauthorized messages from “authentic” senders. How many people do you know who respond to phishing scams? To members of the police department they are obviously scams…too many others they seem very authentic.

While Nixle may be the shallow end of the social media pool, it is still a step into the water. While there are many police departments that use Twitter and Facebook how many use it in an effective manner? If they do not, why don’t they? Perhaps because they are caught up in the technology but don’t think through the way it will be used.

Twitter works best as a means of two-way communication. Twitter is about content but it requires someone to manage that content flow, and it requires time to manage it as well. The police departments that do well with Facebook and Twitter are the ones who follow back…and we do not have the resources right now to even attempt that, as much as we would like to. Nixle has the capability of linking to a Twitter account and perhaps that will be the direction we take. First we will see how this works out for both the police department and for the community at large, but not until then. Again, perhaps we are being cautious but I’m pretty sure that we aren’t hurting anyone by doing so.

For now we have found a system that will help the police department broadcast information in a more timely fashion. We know it is based on a very secure platform. We know that it works well as a broadcast tool. We know that, for the time being, it addresses an identified need, and we know that it is just that – a broadcast tool.

Even this step into the social media pool requires that many different officers, with many different degrees of familiarity and comfort with social media and the technology that drives it, learn to accept and use it. And finally, for now, Nixle gives us a standardized platform that enables us to get information we hope is both timely and helpful (far more than traffic updates) out to the community faster than we have done in the past.

Dale E. Call
Deputy Chief of Police

Posted by Dale Call on July 30, 2010 at 07:44 PM | #

Social media is “social” media- a Police emergency notification should be a separate entity. Let us not cloud one with the other.  I have little to no interest in hearing about drunken lost men and falled trees across roads on FaceBook. This can be potentialy important information and should be delivered separately as to hold it’s realivance.

Posted by kirsten woods on August 04, 2010 at 01:46 PM | #

Ms. Woods,

This may be true. Emergency notifications have been made and will continue to be made with CodeRED. As mentioned in our press release, Nixle is to complement that service as well as give us a way to broadcast other information as well. Police blotter news? I don’t see us sending that out over Nixle (although some agencies do). Items that are of public interest, but not necessarily emergency notifications? Probably. We like Nixle because it allows subscribers to choose what they get, when they get, and how they get it.

Since Sunday the system has been used twice - both times for traffic advisories for roads that were closed to traffic. A little tweaking of the messages are needed but I expect will improve once officers become accustomed to it. So far, so good…better once it catches on.

Dale Call

Posted by Dale Call on August 04, 2010 at 01:51 PM | #

Mr Call,  I think the Nixle is a great service- what i meant by the drunken man- is the person lost near Wilton Road early Sunday morning-  this was delivered over codeRed-  I would prefer not to have this on FaceBook as I said, I am agreeing with your service and like the idea of it being seperate-
The use of new technology has been a huge service to our town. The information that is dispersed throught the school system is invaluable.

Posted by kirsten woods on August 04, 2010 at 02:08 PM | #