Why @HertsPolice using #watfordbomb was not a #fail

Posted on June 4, 2011


I was disappointed but not surprised when last Friday tweets started to appear in my stream criticising @Hertspolice for their use of  #watfordbomb and their use of social media generally the previous day. This was initially based by an article in the Drum that was tweeted. Then another tweet appeared from the Guardian.

On Thu, I was just about to head off for lunch when this appeared
News unfolding on Twitter as @HertsPolice tackle an incident.  Hashtag #watfordbomb controversial

As I’m a local government comms officer who gets involved in emergencies and incidents I thought I’d have a look.  Oh, and the day before I’d been on a emergency planning exercise with the police testing the communciations response, and that also included social media. And that exercise had been about bombs.  So, fair to say I had more than a passing interest in what was going on.

As soon as I clicked through to #watfordbomb on tweetdeck I was bombarded with RT’s showing this

@Hertspolice We are currently dealing with an incident in Watford.The individual is on his own.No members of the public are at direct risk. #watfordbomb

and then this

@Hertspolice We are using the hashtag #watfordbomb as it was created by users and we want to make sure our messages are seen and to keep you updated

Seemed clear enough to me, speculation going on that the incident involved a bomb, and from reading tweets seemed to be in a bank. Fair play to the cops I thought for going to where people are (online, twitter,facebook) and using the immediacy of social media to comment, advise and reassure on a very fast moving situation. And no point putting out another # as #watfordbomb was already in circulation and being well used I thought.

As far as I was concerned they were fulfilling their legal duties under the Civil Contingencies Act of ‘warning and informing’ and doing it well.  They updated their website and tweeted and facebooked links back there with relevant and timely updates.

What happens during an incident is that information comes in from many sources, has to be checked,confirmed, information going out has to be cleared, it’s all time consuming and in a world of 24/7 news and social media we do need to speed up our comms even if it’s just to say, actually we’ve nothing to say bit this is when we plan to have something to say.

From what I can see the only error the cops may have made is using the word speculate here along with the #watfordbomb.

@HertsPolice We would ask that you refrain from speculating. Police are doing everything they can. http://tinyurl.com/3e265gw #watfordbomb

I’ve been in a busy incident room, and yes they could have said it in a different way and I’m sure they’ll look at this during their debrief. As one who has been there, all I would say is before you criticise put yourself in the other persons shoes and ask, under all that pressure, and using a relatively new communications channel would you really have done it all that differently.

And as for the story in the Drum, it’s poor journalism, if you’re going to criticise someone, in the interests of balance,you give them the right to reply.  All they’ve done is use a tweet from the incident, that’s just lazy and they should know better. The Guardian haven’t even done that, they’ve used something but it’s been cut so much it’s not even relevant.  Neither publication used a quote explaining Herts Police use of twitter or #watfordbomb.  I had to go PublicService to find a balanced, factual story.

Maybe there’s another agenda here, are ‘some’ journalists feeling undermined by twitter? That’s where news breaks and unfolds these days. It’s undermining their institutions and their comfort zones. Maybe that’s why they’re so quick to criticise?

As far as following this online went, the local paper, the Watford Observer, were blogging it live and publishing straight to the front page of their website, along with many others in the local area.  I seem to remember there being a stand off, then about 1.25pm several people tweeted loud bangs being heard, then not long after that a picture appeared on twitter showing the man the police had arrested.  Sky were broadcasting live and I believe it made the ITV news too.  So it was getting national coverage and the police made sure there voice was heard on as many different platforms as possible. That’s why I’ll applaud their approach and overlook the one thing they could have done better, because no-one gets it right first time.  Had they not been online then that would have been the #fail.

I’m sure they’ve learned a lot ….oh and it really was also the most eventful lunch time I’ve had in a while.