The New York Police Department’s attempt at using social media to connect with constituents on Tuesday went…well, let’s say awry.
An initial tweet asked people to post photos of themselves with police officers along with the hashtag #myNYPD. Obviously this went poorly, because obviously it was going to go poorly, because these things can really only go poorly (we’ll get back to that in a moment). In response, people sent in lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of photos of New York police officers doing violent things to people. (Like the photo at the top of this post. It’s almost two years old, but thanks to the #myNYPD hashtag, it has been everywhere over the last 24 hours.)
William J. Bratton, the police commissioner, said he isn’t too bothered by the reaction:
“I kind of welcome the attention,” Bratton said Wednesday as the negative tweets kept coming nearly 24 hours after cops invited the cyber-submissions….
“Most of the pictures I looked at, they’re old news,” Bratton said, tossing previous NYPD administrations under the patrol car. “They’ve been out there for a long time.”
(First, let us pause and appreciate “under the patrol car.” Please never change, New York Daily News.)
Bratton has said he wants to use social media more to gauge public opinion. Earlier this month, a photo showing an officer walking an elderly woman (believed to be blind) was quite popular online, prompting the decision to ask for more photos of police with members of the public, according to the Wall Street Journal. Bratton also encouraged people to keep sending in photos, not that people need much encouragement.
Which brings us to the larger issue of hashtags in general. There were really only two ways for this to go, at least for the broader social media audience: Either the hashtag was going to get some responses before largely fading away without seeping into the larger culture, or it was going to go so, so wrong that the hashtag’s failure would become the story itself.
So McDonald’s tries to promote #McDStories and winds up with a predictable response. Research in Motion tries out #BeBold and gets mocked. On and on it goes, and this clearly isn’t going away, not as long as brands and companies and organizations see Twitter and other social media platforms as ways to create promotions for their products and/or overall existence. We’re going to see more hashtags go awry and we’re going to see more tweets like the insanely pornographic US Airways one (as companies continue to use social media to answer customer complaints) and Campbell Soup’s “Pearl Harbor, But A Jaunty, Anthropomorphic Cartoon” tweet (as companies continue to show us there’s no extant hashtag they won’t glom onto).
This will happen as long as people are using Twitter and other forms of social media that provide an easy avenue for brand management and an even easier vehicle for mockery.