MANILA, Philippines–Policemen are perhaps still trying to figure out what they can do over negative Facebook comments.
Last November 7, the police chief of Maasin City in Southern Leyte “invited” seven individuals to the city police precinct after making online criticisms against the city police. The negative comments came after Maasin City police failed to stop a number of robberies that all happened within a span of one day. The police chief said he does not intend to intimidate but rather, caution the seven. But the seven netizens snubbed the invitation and the city police chief said that he won’t send another invitation. The issue drew negative comments from netizens.
In another incident, early last October, a Philippine National Police (PNP) Facebook fan page drew fire after its administrator threatened to use the defamatory comments posted in the page as evidence in admonishing netizens. Apparently, the PNP fan page is not an official one and is one of the numerous fan pages on the organization. This happened in the heat of the issue on Republic Act 10175 or the Anti-cybercrime law that was issued a Temporary Restraining Order by the Supreme Court.
What do such incidents show?
Apparently, the PNP perhaps is lagging behind in terms of being connected and capable in the online world. Not just the PNP, but also the whole security sector.
No Way to Go But Online
Ace Esmeralda, editor-in-chief of SecurityMatters Magazine, gave a presentation on “Corporate Security and Media” in the Corporate Security Management Conference 2012 held last November 9 in Singapore Expo. He emphasized the emergence of new media and how the security sector can benefit from it.
New media, as explained by Esmeralda, is a broad term that describes the fusion of traditional media and computer and communications technology, primarily the Internet. Stories and issues receive more impact with social networking. Any content in a blog or website that stirs the public’s emotion will surely be spread.
He said communications is never the same as before. “With the advent of social networking, institutions no longer communicate one-way to the public, now, the public communicates with them and creates a conversation.”
So for the security sector, both private and government, he added that “there is no way to go but online.”
He also suggested that “the PNP should improve their communications skills which are necessary in the Internet age. The PNP should not be afraid of criticisms and look for what is libelous. Rather, they can seek for possibilities with the use of new media in law enforcement and peace and order efforts.”
The online world is emotional in nature, and content that draws emotional sentiments go viral over new media. Emotions range from joy, sadness, and anger. It is usually because of bad publicity and incidents that government officials and institutions receive the online rage of Filipino netizens. Such incidents lead the individuals and institutions into issuing statements and acting on said issues. The PNP had its great share of netizens’ anger. Based on what the institution has experienced, the PNP should not be onion-skinned over the Internet. It should not seek to avoid netizens, but rather engage them.
The emergence of social networking among Filipinos has increased interactivity in the online world and has opened netizens to risks from criminals operating through the Internet. And it is time that the PNP should follow. The PNP should continually seek to improve itself to be more effective in stopping criminality offline and online.
Despite the risk of receiving a storm of criticisms from netizens, a lot of people still “like” the PNP. Just look at the number of PNP fan pages and the number of its fans. It shows that the PNP has a large online following, perhaps an online community that is sympathetic, concerned, willing to listen, and willing to work with the PNP in public safety and security. It is because safety and security can never be monopolized by a single agency because they are everyone’s concern.
Being online savvy means not requiring policemen to be on Facebook but instead teaching them to maximize the online tools and social media in their efforts to protect and serve the public. For the PNP, perhaps, managing properly and progressively its official Facebook fan page is a good start.
But other than these points raised, why should the PNP learn to be online savvy?
1. Self improvement
Learning to be tech savvy can open up a lot of opportunities for the individual cop. It is said that the Internet is an equal playing field. It is not exclusively for expression, but also for learning. Such access to information can help them grow in their profession, livelihood, and health, among others. They can also introduce connections for personal and professional growth can benefit the individual policemen. Given the additional skills and knowledge accessible over the Internet, the individual policeman will be more effective and professional without additional cost in training and education. A professional policeman, anyway, is the foundation of a professional police force.
Many modus and crime stories proliferate in the Internet without the police neither verifying nor acknowledging them. The circulation of such stories spreads fear among the public and can cast doubts over the ability of policemen. The Internet, especially social media can be used by policemen as a tool for community awareness. Through social media, the PNP can expose different criminal schemes and modus operandi to the public and even verify if stories are true or just urban legend. Given an informed and aware netizen, surely they would be able to protect themselves from criminal activities. Being able to prevent a crime is better than trying to solve a crime and catch criminals.
3. Increased crime-fighting
Many criminals utilize the Internet for their schemes. As a law-enforcement agency, they will be tasked to also deal with crimes, especially done over the World Wide Web. Learning the ropes of being online will make the PNP capable in addressing cybercrimes that transcend cities, town, provinces and regions and develop systems to address these.
Also, an informed population is a great ally in solving cases and catching criminals. We have seen cases of missing people having been found with the help of social media. What more if the PNP used social media to catch criminals? A simple share of the picture of a missing person can go a long, long way. Netizen involvement counts in police matters.
4. Feedback & Dialogue
The PNP can use social media as a means to get feedback on their actions for the institution to improve. It is well known that reforms for good governance in the PNP were started by the late DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo. And good governance requires citizen involvement and feedback. Social media can be a source of feedback on how policemen and their organization are doing.
Also, it is an avenue for dialogue with the public. Dialogue helps because it fosters understanding if emotions are regulated. This also provides opportunity to link up with critics and citizen groups and open up cooperative efforts to improve the police force.
5. Improve Public Image
The performance of policemen is evaluated by statistics with crime rate and ratio of reported crimes to solved ones. But public image of policemen are hardly measured unless with commissioned surveys. But social media can provide a glimpse on how the public views the police organization.
It is expected that initial police involvement online can be met by negative views. If the PNP seeks to enhance its image, then it must engage the public online. Mass media cannot pick up police stories, except when it involves police abuse and heinous crimes. So they can resort to online and social media because it is, anyway, an open and equal playing field. It can help the public understand more about the PNP and eliminate the animosity about the organization brought about by negative publicity and pop culture.