With the proliferation and ubiquity of social media technology, more criminal justice educators and professionals need to have an adequate understanding of how to use it for their benefit. Social media and government was first viewed as a way to push news updates or relevant issues in a community to citizens, but that is only one component of the many emerging benefits in social media. One year ago, John Dale of the Boston Police Department described the benefits of embracing Twitter as an early warning system:
“Using the Twitter advanced search, we can look at all the tweets in Boston in real-time... We’re not interested in just everyday messages that people put up--but when people start saying ‘What’s that smoke coming from the Hancock Tower’ or ‘Why is everybody running around Copley Place’ or something?... If two or three things come in--patterns, trends--something we should be paying attention to” (Youtube).
The need to embrace, understand and utilize social media has come from the top down, literally. President Obama won the election largely due to money raised from grassroots donations and by reaching people through social media. Additionally, the President signed the “Open Government Directive” which makes transparency in government a requirement on all levels. This directive has a handful of unprecedented benefits. For the first time ever, all federal agencies were required to have two way communication with citizens. Additionally, citizens could make suggestions, vote up or down others’ ideas, and have an active voice in government through Twitter or replying to blog posts which was previously seen as near impossible.
A fantastic example of an agency taking the lead with “OpenGov” is the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Chairman Julius Genachowski has had almost half a dozen YouTube interviews hosted by the FCC, Digg.com or the WallStreetJournal. Questions submitted through Twitter, Facebook and the FCC blog were directed to the Chairman and were answered with candor and confidence. The questions, too, were extremely on point and did reflect questions/feedback that real Americans have.
The FCC is an agency that Americans would expect to have a certain level of transparency, however, this transparency doesn’t just pertain to business or communications agencies; it also applies to the Department of Homeland Security too. Secretary Janet Napolitano answers citizen’s questions regarding TSA and air security in a 20 minute interview based on questions from social media users. Directors of federal agencies who are role models to citizens and to other agencies are taking admirable steps forward to increase the public’s morale in their agency by sharing latest projects and developments and demonstrating a forward-leaning position to the public’s concerns.
Some critics of social media think that Twitter is a technology fad and doesn’t provide benefits. In almost every major news related event or late breaking development in a...