Police to citizens: Be careful what you tweet

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 14, 2014 at 3:32 pm •  Published: August 14, 2014
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SEATTLE (AP) — Police in Washington state are asking the public to stop tweeting during shootings and manhunts to avoid accidentally telling the bad guys what officers are doing.

The "TweetSmart" campaign began in late July by a coalition of nine agencies, including the Washington state patrol and the Seattle police, and aims to raise awareness about social media's potential impact on law enforcement.

Some have called the effort a step that could lead to censorship; others dismissed it as silly. Police, however, say it's just a reminder at a time when cell phones and social networks can hasten the lightning-quick spread of information.

A social media expert at the International Association of Chiefs of Police said she's unaware of similar awareness campaigns elsewhere but the problem that prompted the outreach is growing.

"All members of the public may not understand the implications of tweeting out a picture of SWAT team activity," said Nancy Kolb, who oversees the Alexandria, Virginia, organization's Center for Social Media.

"It's a real safety issue, not only for officers but anyone in the vicinity," Kolb said.

Kolb said she is not aware of any social media post that has led to the injury of a police officer, but she said there have been a few close calls. Other times, tweets have interfered with investigations.

In those cases, police tweet back and ask people to back off.

Kolb said citizen journalists generally respond well when the reasons are explained.

"It's not that they don't want the public to share information," she said. "It's the timing of it."

Social media speculation and reports challenged Boston police during the search for the marathon bombers.

Two recent incidents led the Washington State Patrol to organize the "TweetSmart" campaign: the search for a gunman in Canada after three officers were killed and a shooting at a high school near Portland, Oregon.

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