I realize this is like, two months late. I’M BUSY.
Like a lot of other Torontonians, I was pretty pissed off about the G20 â€” pissed off at the indignity of having to march next to Black Bloc at the main march on the Saturday; pissed off at the Black Bloc during the trouble; about how the police handled it; about how the media looped footage of that cop car burning at King and Bay, over and over, for the entire day; about how protest and our right to it was usurped by idiot mall anarchists and idiot cops.
It all started when I saw @mondoville retweet this boneheaded, pollyannish remark from Vella on Friday, July 30:
Depending on who you ask, TAVIS and the TPS’ other preventative policing initiatives are clusterfucks that have further fractured citizen support for the police, and alienated young black men in Toronto. Or, it’s great work that is responsible for keeping hundreds of vulnerable kids off the street. With that and my G20 experience in mind, I made this tweet:
I didn’t think he’d respond. The Toronto Police Twitter strategy seemed to me to be one of shameless retweeting of praise â€” during the G20, @TorontoPolice exclusively retweeted comments from Torontonians supportive of the “police action” that weekend (i.e. trampling peaceful protestors with horses, but not apprehending vandals on foot). I was wrong â€” he did respond, but with the same insincere attitude that had characterized the ISU that entire weekend:
Like, ugh! So I was all like:
I guess that’s when he clued in and re-read what I’d actually said. Context: @delbius works on Twitter’s Trust and Safety team (ostensibly dealing with fraud, identity theft, user verification, etc.), @lawscomm is in fact not a lawyer but a “Social media strategist for Law Enforcement,” and @trafficservices and @graffitibmxcop are his fellow officers on the TPS.
Now, I’m no “social media guru” but I know what works on Twitter and what doesn’t. Again, retweeting only complimentary tweets doesn’t work. Neither does the 2010 equivalent of “telling on the principal.” Plus, I have more followers than @OfficerVella, and I’m not afraid to use them. So I said this:
Sure enough, fellow Torontwonians (see what I did there?) came to my defence. Some even made some funnies!
Flustered, Vella made various overtures about fostering “communication” and “dialogue” throughout the afternoon:
Of course, all of this is defensive hot air â€” throughout the entire debacle, the only direct conversation we had was when he thanked me for my “retweet.” I’ve never received an apology or acknowledgement that what I said about police relations had merit. If the Toronto Police knew how to use Twitter (or knew how to police), he would have said something like, “Thanks for your feedback. We’re trying harder to reach out to folks who were upset with how the weekend went down. Follow up with complaints, etc., at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
There are many ways to read into this whole experience:
- Cops can and do treat the Internet the way they do the street: They think they can bully, intimidate, threaten and corral people into doing whatever they want. But online, everything remains on the record (and still remains online â€” have to give Officer Vella credit for not deleting his asinine tweets).
- Relations between Torontonians and their police force have irreparably changed after the G20. They can’t stuff it in the corner and pretend that progressive, middle-of-the-road folks aren’t mad too.
- This PR flack doesn’t know shit about Twitter. Let this be an instructive experience for PR folks, in any field. Know the difference between a reply and a retweet. Vella’s original charge was that I had altered his words and rebroadcast them as his own; I did no such thing. If you understand the mechanics of these two functions, you’ll know the only people who would’ve seen the original tweet were him, @mondoville, and whoever’s following both of us; which, I’m guessing, is not very many people.
Don’t take that to mean I think cops should get off the Internet. Cops have every reason to be on Twitter â€”Â in Toronto, many active, engaged citizens, journalists and community organizers talk about the city’s many issues, and those are the people you want to reach if the force wants to improve policing and relations. But not like this.
The measure of a society’s civil rights protections is not in times of peace, when no one ever gives a thought to their civil liberties, but rather how they are upheld when legislation, agencies, bodies or groups threaten them, blah blah blah. I will spare you all the platitudes about civic engagement, democracy, etc.
Hat tip to Justin Stashyn for his handy write-up on #twettle, and to my wonderful co-star, Media Relations Officer Constable Tonyo Vella.
I have no doubt this spat has put me on their radar for as long as we both shall live, because two weeks later, another cop has started following me on Twitter. Oh, and TPS asked me to advise Halifax Police on my experience being #twettled.
Now, who wants to buy me a twettle mug from Urban Dictionary?