The New York Police Department has learned the hard way that Twitter is a two-edged sword with a point that has deeply embedded itself into the department’s self-image.
The department this week decided to stick a virtual toe into the 21st century by launching a Twitter campaign to allow everyone to post pictures that glorified New York’s finest under the hashtag #myNYPD. It didn’t exactly work out that way.
Instead of the hoped-for pictures of police helpfully aiding citizens and happy cops on bicycles -- staples of the department’s official news feed -- it got an outpouring of pictures of apparent police brutality, misconduct and just downright nastiness.
Worse, the anti-police campaign that was sparked by the #myNYPD campaign has spawned a slew of copycat denigrations including #MYLAPD, #MYCPD and #MYAPD, chronicling the alleged police ills in Los Angeles, Chicago and Albuquerque, the latter still reeling from a series of police shootings.
“Bash Tag!” screamed the New York Daily News in its usual pithy, if not so subtle front-page headline. “NYPD Twits’ outreach turns into ‘brutal’ fiasco”
The anti-cop campaign was spearheaded by Occupy Wall Street protesters who essentially were able to hijack the public relations effort that was fed by pockets of unhappiness.
New York has a history of problems including spying on protesters and minority racial and religious groups. It has also been used as a political punching bag over issues like stop-and-frisk, in which police fight crime by stopping suspects who often are people of color. So there was certainly a reservoir of ill will waiting to bubble up.
Social media did what it does best by spreading everything regardless of the hopes of the originators, who were best described on Wednesday as maintaining a #stiffupperlip.
“The NYPD is creating new ways to communicate effectively with the community. Twitter provides an open forum for an uncensored exchange and this is an open dialogue good for our city,” Deputy Chief Kim Y. Royster said in a statement emailed to reporters.
“I kind of welcome the attention,” NYPD Chief William Bratton told reporters Wednesday. “We really broke the numbers yesterday.”
“Most of the pictures I looked at, they’re old news,” Bratton said later, a reference to the fact that the incidents portrayed in the photos were before he took office this year for his current tenure.
“Oftentimes police activities are lawful, but look awful,” he said.
Some posts did portray the New York Police Department in a positive light:
@NYPDnews my photo from my ride along with the boys from the 90th pct #myNYPD pic.twitter.com/vwv7KQjLFD— Lindsay Dixon (@poshwonderwoman) April 22, 2014
Good cops overshadowed by bad policies. “@annuhk: People are so lame, there’s a lot of good cops out there as well... #myNYPD”— Journey (@PupsherLive) April 23, 2014
By Thursday, the derogatory photo tweets had gone viral and were threatening to become as much of a cop cliche as doughnuts.
Lets help launch #myLAPD Thanks for the idea #nypd #myNYPD #LAPD— Gregory O’Bannon (@da_kid617) April 23, 2014
Can’t wait for the #myCPD hashtag to start trending
— Drew Moody (@drewmoody321) April 23, 2014
[For the Record, 7:47 a.m. PDT April 24: A previous version of this post incorrectly attributed a front page headline to the New York Post. The headline appeared in the Daily News.]