NYPD Social Media Campaign Backfires as People Post Thousands of Negative Tweets and Photos of Police Brutality

A pedestrian walks past a line of New York Police Department (NYPD) cars parked at Times Square in New York, October 18, 2011. CREDIT: REUTERS/GARY HERSHORN
A pedestrian walks past a line of New York Police Department (NYPD) cars parked at Times Square in New York, October 18, 2011. CREDIT: REUTERS/GARY HERSHORN

A New York Police Department campaign to burnish its image via social media instead produced a flood of pictures of police brutality and tweets critical of the force being shared at a rate of thousands an hour.

The department on Tuesday afternoon invited Twitter users to submit pictures of themselves with NYPD cops using the hashtag #mynypd, promising some would be posted to the NYPD Facebook page.

Within hours, a torrent of images depicting police brutality, violence and controversial tactics, most of which occurred under former New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, deluged Twitter.

By Wednesday morning, the #mynypd hashtag had been tweeted more than 94,000 times.

At 7 a.m. Wednesday, the #mynypd hashtag was still pinballing through cyberspace at a rate of 3,400 an hour, according to hashtags.org, a Twitter analytics website. At 8 a.m, the figure had dropped to 2,800 tweets per hour.

The tweets included images of violence from New York’s Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, pictures of an NYPD officer pointing a gun at a dog, and an officer asleep in a subway car.

Images and tweets also referred to the fatal, controversial New York police shootings of Sean Bell in 1999 and Amadou Diallo in 1999, each of which led to criminal trials in which all the officers were acquitted.

After the campaign appeared to backfire, the department issued a two-sentence statement saying that it was “creating new ways to communicate effectively with the community.”

“Twitter provides an open forum for an uncensored exchange and this is an open dialogue good for our city,” the statement said.

The current police commissioner, William Bratton, was appointed following the election of Mayor Bill de Blasio. Kelly was commissioner under de Blasio’s predecessor, Michael Bloomberg.

Other high-profile Twitter campaigns that went awry include one launched by Comedy Central’s satirical Colbert Report that in March took down a tweet that many considered racist after it poked fun at a football team owner and sparked a #CancelColbert backlash.

Last fall, JPMorgan Chase & Co, the only large financial institution to have posted a profit during the 2007-2008 financial crisis, canceled plans for a senior executive to answer Twitter questions after a flood of critical #AskJPM tweets.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Jonathan Oatis)


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