From disseminating factual updates to documenting offline outreach, social media presence has become a key tool for police to communicate amidst the COVID-19 crisis.
Official social media accounts of city and state police, as well as senior police officers, have been continuously sharing factual updates in the wake of the lockdown. These updates include busting the chain of WhatsApp forwards and documenting offline outreach. The idea is to put forth the narrative of what is happening across the country, giving citizens a micro-level glimpse into a macro-level issue, at their fingertips.
Such communication also helps them establish community-building efforts. Coverage in mainstream media is used as one of their assets while communicating online. Such instances help expand the scope of updates in a credible way and in some cases, also help humanise the otherwise tough image of police personnel.
Social distancing is a popular theme being taken up by police forces that often put up memes in order to stay humorously relevant without crossing a line. Regional language plays a crucial role here for most hard-hitting references are often found there, may it literature or performing arts.
Entertainment is an easy way for them to communicate with masses, something Punjab Police portrayed by releasing an awareness video to narrate the case of Gawaacha Gurbaksh in partnership with Diljit Dosanjh.
To control the spread of misinformation is perhaps one of the most important roles of police personnel. It makes logistical sense for panic caused by such messages can lead to law and order situations. Police accounts on social media have been regularly debunking misinformation for the benefit of people.
They are also finding newer ways to connect with the citizens for reassurance. The Commissioner of Mumbai Police had recently run a Twitter chat for an hour, answering queries in real-time. Such initiatives tend to make people heard. Almost all police personnel are using social media to push messages recorded by top cops, putting a face to the efforts.
Giving regular updates
Several police forces across India have apps that can be used by people to gather information. Rajasthan Police is currently using its RajCop Citizen App to facilitate easy access of lockdown passes for people. This way, the process and its documentation are easy and people feel empowered at having the ability to have information at their fingertips.
An interesting aspect of the way Rajasthan Police is using Twitter is the use of hashtags and numbering of tweets. So, every update about COVID-19 falls under the #RPFightsCorona series and is serialised as an episode using another hashtag. They use a lot of emojis, adding a sense of colloquialism to communication.
Running awareness campaigns
Police forces are looking at all possible avenues to get the message to the masses — stay at home, stay safe. As a part of outreach efforts, Punjab Police is participating in TikTok’s #GharBaithoIndia campaign, urging people to stay home and be a hero. The narrative chosen by them talks about a man who loves to go out and create TikTok videos but is also doing so at home and garnering love online.
Documenting offline work
From being the tough ones enforcing rules to being out there helping people have access to essentials, police personnel are often out on the streets. These moments are currently being documented by almost all police forces with social media presence online. It helps them tell people we are out here to help, please stay inside unless you really have to.
Letting solidarity go viral
Clips of police personnel performing outdoors to keep up the morale are bound to go around online quickly. Two prominent ones that went viral recently were reportedly shot in Gujarat and Chhatisgarh. Such videos are being applauded online as efforts by cops to appear friendly to citizens.
Police on social media
Sharing memes to put across social messages is a constant theme in police communication on social media. This is most commonly seen in the Twitter presence of Maharashtra Police, Mumbai Police and Nagpur Police. It is interesting how police forces chose to be most visible on Twitter. The platform puts them in the focus for not just citizens but also media.
Their tweets generate enough buzz to get written about by portals that cover trending news, often tricking down to articles in various regional languages. They create news and it helps them reach more audiences, via credible channels, without tapping onto multiple social media platforms. These also trickle down to WhatsApp messages, expanding reach manifold.
Regional language, in the original script, is often used by cops in communication. In some cases, like Ahmedabad Police on Instagram, Gujarati is the prominent language of communication. For Mumbai Police on Twitter, campaign communication is almost always put in Marathi as well as English. Hashtags in such cases are mostly in English.
TikTok is something police personnel seem to be experimenting with. The platform is a tricky terrain as cops can’t come off as entertaining. However, given the diverse reach of the platform and, the buzz they are able to create just by being on it is one to leverage. This also highlights the importance of video content and how it helps them reach more people than text.