Social media shows its value for public and law enforcement in crises




Posted on June 5, 2013 at 5:40 PM

ARLINGTON -- Social media has changed the way the world shares information, and more often, we've noticed police departments are using sites like Facebook and Twitter to communicate in a crisis.

Social media is quickly becoming the prime way to communicate, particularly in a crisis.

Dramatic first images on Facebook, YouTube and Vine appeared minutes after the Granbury and Oklahoma tornadoes, the West plant explosion, and the Boston Marathon bombings.

“Users are really taking advantage of the fact that they post high-quality photos and videos and play a part as a citizen journalist in these disasters,” said Weber Shandwick Digital Strategist Alyssa Gardina.

It's a tool now for law enforcement, too.

Arlington police pioneered tweet-alongs, where officers and citizens exchange information. The department uses Facebook and Nixle, a public-notification system, too.

Boston police used social media to break the news of the bombing suspect's arrest on Twitter moments after it happened earlier this year.

“The good thing about social media is, we are the source of information," said Arlington Officer Zhivonni McDonnell. "When they come to the Arlington Police Department's Facebook page or Twitter, or they receive a Nixle text or e-mail, they know it is coming from the police department and it is accurate information."

That exchange of information on Facebook and Twitter is key, too, when normal lines of communication fail in life-and-death situations.

“Cell phones get clogged up and people can't make outgoing calls or send text messages, so the next best thing that they have is social media," Gardina said. "And what we saw through many of the recent disasters is people actually posting to Facebook to Twitter these pictures of their loved ones and actually successfully tracking them down."