After solving a hostage situation in March 2017, the Seattle Police Department held two press conferences.
“Ask Me Anything”
The first conference was at the crime scene where a man holding a knife in his hand yelled at the police to kill him, after two hours of negotiation. The second was two days later at a Reddit thread – Ask Me Anything.
The “Hip” Negotiator
There, the Seattle Police Department’s hostage negotiator had more time to and was able to entertain questions ranging from why half the city’s streets were shut down for hours to “Would you rather negotiate with a horse who is holding 100 ducks hostages, or with 100 ducks holding one horse hostage?” The officer chose the former option as it would be easier to negotiate with one single creature rather than with a hundred ducks.
This marked a new form of outreach for the police community as departments across the US are getting more “hip” to Reddit’s unmatched reach as a social media platform. Some of the biggest police departments in the nation choose local subreddit’s over Twitter accounts and Facebook pages. The Seattle police have had a Reddit account since 2013. And on January 2019, the New York Police and the Los Angeles Police Departments joined Reddit too.
According to Jonathan Spangenthel-Lee, Seattle’s senior communications manager, they jump on Reddit because they know they are going to be asked tough questions and the engagement is quite good compared to any other social media.
Reddit has existed since 2005 and its audience has always been greater than Facebook’s, which was founded in 2004 and Twitter’s, which was founded in 2006. A Reddit spokesperson said that the company helped the NYPD and the LAPD join the community. Reddit started talking to the LAPD after having worked with the LAPD mayor’s office. The NYPD joined after having been contacted by the LAPD’s communications team.
Police Activity On Social Media
The presence of the police departments on social media isn’t a new thing as most of the law enforcement agencies have either a Twitter page, or a Facebook page, or both.
But, social media has proven to be a double-ended sword for the police departments as not everyone is a fan of the law enforces. When the NYPD tried a “#myNYPD” campaign, it gained massive backlash as the platform was flooded with images of police violence. It was so bad that it spread to the LAPD too.
According to Matthew Regis, the LAPD’s strategic communications officer, “That is an uphill battle that law enforcement is facing, because people’s natural instinct when you say something on social media is it’s some form of propaganda.”
The Downvotes Received
The NYPD didn’t quite receive the warmest of welcomes when it created the r/NYC subreddit.
Shortly after Bar-tur created the account, their first post was wishing everyone a ‘Happy Lunar New Year’ to the subreddit. The top comment wrote, “12 possible Zodiac animals and the NYPD social media manager makes these cops do a video for the year of the pigs.”
But Bar-tur doesn’t mind the criticism. She spends most of her free time on Reddit and knows people can be negative. What she is genuinely interested in is to understand what the Reddit community is interested in and how they can help.