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An OUPD vehicle is parked outside of Scott Quad. (JOSHUA LIM | FILE)

OUPD increasingly uses Twitter, Facebook to spread information

When the Ohio University Police Department released a crime alert two weeks ago about an alleged rape on campus, one of the first places many students heard about it was Twitter or Facebook.

OUPD has accounts on TwitterYouTube and Facebook, but Lt. Tim Ryan said the preferred platform is Twitter because it is used more by OUPD’s target audience. On Feb 5., when the alert was released, the department posted it to Twitter and Facebook at 11 a.m. Some students didn't receive an email about the alert until nearly 20 minutes later.

If a different platform was more popular, Ryan said the department would switch from Twitter. OUPD created a Twitter account in July 2010. 

“The most common (tweet we get) is someone’s thoughts, like, ‘@oupolice, is this OK?’ ”

Ryan said while commenters can get boisterous, he is unsure whether that is a disadvantage.

“It’s certainly (an) avenue of communication," Ryan said. "Sometimes that’s not always positive, but that’s feedback, so I don’t know if that’s necessarily a bad thing.”

Laeeq Khan, an assistant professor and the director of the social media analytics lab, said using social media better allows organizations and offices such as OUPD to collect information about trends in the community.

“Obviously, with any (form of) technology there are always positives and negatives, and (boisterousness) falls in the negative realm," he said. "However, by being able to measure this, we at least have the ability to understand who is being boisterous. In a way, we have our finger on the pulse of whatever’s going on.”

Ian Beith, a junior studying management information systems, said seeing OUPD’s alerts on Twitter helps him stay up-to-date better than if he receives alerts in emails because he checks his Twitter more often.

“I think they both have their own purposes. (Emails are) more school-related,” Beith said. “Social media gives everybody their own voice. People are able to communicate with people they otherwise wouldn’t be able to.”

Karen Riggs, a professor and coordinator of the Scripps College of Communication Social Media Certificate, said using social media can help law enforcement agencies reach out to the community, find criminals and communicate with immediacy.

“Social media can be a useful tool for police because so many crooks foolishly post incriminating evidence, or their friends do," Riggs said in an email. "For example, a guy once stole a police cruiser, stopped to fill it up with gas, and took a selfie, which he posted immediately online.”

But Riggs said issues regarding privacy can arise, which can impact some law enforcement agencies, citizens and social media platforms.

“The law enforcement networks want into the private accounts,” Riggs said. “Facebook, being the biggest example, doesn’t want to give access except under the most dire of circumstances … like the threat of an immediate suicide.”

Riggs said one major reason for that is that social media platforms, such as Facebook, are businesses that make money off of participation. Giving up the private information of a platform’s users can cause users to feel betrayed.

“There really is a continually eroding respect for people," she said. "It doesn’t mean that law enforcement is, by and large, bad in wanting to solve crimes, but it does mean that it comes with a cost — a cost that not everybody wants to pay."


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