Northern Ireland

PSNI in Twitter storm after 'dry your eyes' tweet

Social media platforms
Image caption Social media can be a quick and easy way to communicate, but experts say users should be wary of their posts being taken out of context

Let's face it - most people use social media in some form to communicate these days.

Many of us can rarely put down our phones, which are filled to the brim with social apps such as Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat.

In recent years, emergency services and public authorities have been getting in on the act too.

Social media applications allow them to share information faster, easier and with a wider audience.

When it works, it does so really well, but it is often the social media blunders and 140-character faux-pas that stick in the memory.

Northern Ireland's Chief Constable George Hamilton apologised to his officers on Sunday, after posting a tweet that appeared to dismiss the pressure under which they work.

Image copyright Twitter
Image caption Mr Hamilton had been having a discussion on Twitter about careers in policing, before writing that people should "dry your eyes, do the job or move on"

He used Twitter to post a video apology, saying: "Last night's frank Twitter conversation was what the police actually do, however, such important issues are not best dealt with in the 140 characters of a tweet.

"I've clearly caused some offence in what I've said, and for that I apologise."

'Fess up!'

Mr Hamilton isn't alone in causing controversy after posting seemingly offensive comments on social media.

In January, politician Gerry Adams apologised for using the 'N-word' in a tweet comparing the plight of slaves in the United States to the treatment of Irish nationalists.

Image copyright Twitter
Image caption Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams had to apologise after he posted the tweet

The tweet was later deleted, but it provoked an angry reaction.

Social media consultant Sue Llewellyn advises users: "Think before you tweet."

"If you mess up, 'fess up and apologise," Ms Llewellyn told BBC News NI. "The worst thing you can do is to either ignore it, or hide it by deleting your tweet."

'Use emojis'

The difficulty that many people face on social media, she adds, is that humour often doesn't translate well in 140 characters or less.

"You can't really see humour or sarcasm in a tweet, for example, and it can make you look offensive.

"One way to deal with this is to use emojis, or hashtags to add that level of emotion," said Ms Llewellyn.

Sue Llewellyn's social media dos and don'ts

  • Never argue with anyone
  • Be aware of who is looking at your posts
  • Be aware of trolls
  • Assume everything you say is permanent
  • Check what you're writing is accurate
  • Ask yourself: could it be taken out of context? Could it offend somebody?
  • Don't post anything late at night

But if there are so many potential ways to trip up on social media, what makes it worth using?

While users need to be mindful of the pitfalls, the benefits of social media far outweigh the downsides, said Ms Llewellyn.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) have Twitter and Facebook accounts for each policing district - and for the most part, these have proved to be a really effective way of communicating with the public.

In 2015, the PSNI held a 24-hour Twitter event to give people an insight into the everyday work of officers.

'Human voice'

More recently, they jumped on the 'Be like Bill' internet meme bandwagon, using the trend to deliver a more serious message.

This approach to social media gives public authorities a "human voice", said Sue Llewellyn.

"It puts a human face on what was once a closed door, it makes what they're doing more transparent."

Image copyright Facebook
Image caption PSNI Bangor and PSNI Craigavon's social media teams are in a battle about whose Facebook page is the funniest
Image copyright Facebook
Image caption This Facebook post by PSNI Craigavon got more than 2,000 likes and nearly 100 shares

"I think it's a fantastic way of reaching more difficult to reach members of the public, especially younger people, and speak to them in their own language, on their own terms in their own turf."

'Light touch'

That authentic approach seems to be paying off for the PSNI's district social media teams. A battle to be named the funniest team on Facebook has even kicked off between PSNI Bangor and PSNI Craigavon.

The use of well-known memes and behind-the-scenes photos of officers on duty points to a more humorous, approachable side of the police that the public rarely sees.

Image copyright Facebook
Image caption PSNI Fermanagh posted an action shot of an officer helping to birth a calf

Some officers have even used social media to stay trendy while promoting safety, with PSNI Bangor asking people to be careful when they are out hunting for Pokémon Go.

Image copyright Facebook
Image caption PSNI Bangor - down with the kids and the latest craze, Pokémon Go

The police and other public authorities tend to be regarded with caution, said Ms Sue Llewellyn, so such an approach helps these bodies connect with the public.

"With a light touch and a human voice, the benefits can be enormous," she said.

"A faceless organisation with the right tone can really engage the public in a great way."

But, she concluded: "Think before you tweet, always!"

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