I just worked my way through multiple social media feeds from federal law enforcement and homeland security agencies. I wanted to stick a paper clip in my eye. The lack of thought put into the posts, and the clear lack of interest in engaging community members, is painfully obvious. The FBI, for example, seems to confuse Twitter as a news release aggregator. I don’t want to pick on the FBI, though; almost all of these agencies view social media platforms as fax machines or something.

I have a distinct interest in following these agencies online. I come from them. I have worked at the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security. I want to follow them. I’d like to keep abreast of what’s going on. I’d like to engage them.

They, however, have no interest in engaging me.

I honestly don’t care that an Army private pleaded guilty to some vague scheme to defraud the government. Not any more than I care to read that the Washington, D.C., Metro Police roused some homeless guy sleeping on the mall. Nor am I interested in the fact that ten people were arrested for health care fraud. Arrested? That means nothing. More importantly, I don’t care in the arrests or even convictions of small-time criminals.

What about my own former agency – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. I learn from ICE’s Twitter feed that some guy was deported to the United Kingdom. Am I going to have to read an endless list of people deported?

The continuous desire on the part of government agencies to “control the message,” a concept that went out the window back in the days when discussion boards were all the rage, is self-defeating. Guys: You’re not controlling any message. Other people are talking about you. Every day. Every minute. Online. Whether you like it or not. You should be talking back. Putting your mission in perspective. Making sure correct information is circulating.

Using your social media platforms to post the equivalent of traffic citations not only gets you nowhere. You’re ability to join the debate and influence the message is crippled. Why? Nobody is reading you. Not even me – a natural ally and consumer of your content.

It’s time for government agencies to put some serious thought into their communications strategies. It’s not 1995. It’s not even 2005. The media landscape is changing, and you’re not adapting. Which means you’re losing control of the message you so desperately want to control.

Digital media – from interactive websites to blogs to social media – could be a valuable tool, even an operational tool. Use it.

Chris Battle founded Security Debrief as a forum for the homeland security community to discuss pressing issues and current debates in national security, counter-terrorism and law enforcement. After a long fight against kidney cancer, Chris passed in August 2013. Read More
  • Tonym41

    Very well stated.  Agencies today are reluctant to engage the public in a meaningful way.  It’s a CYA mentality and some are reluctant that they may inadvertently say the wrong thing.

    • Anonymous

      You’re right, Tony, it is a CYA thing. The problem is that the A’s are not getting C’d because many of the agancies are getting trashed and their reputations are getting muddied. Using social media effectively during many of the Occupy Wall Street efforts, for example, would have been a good way to alert the public to what was being done and why it had to be done. This may have helped with some of the negative publicity. 

  • Chris Battle has nailed this one on the head! When I first started using social media three years ago professionally I naturally looked at all the law enforcement feeds I could to learn.  That move almost made me leave social media. There are much better representations in the space now, but still as you noted, many are still broadcasting information of value to themselves and adding nothing of value to their community.
    Don’t give up on us all yet, some are doing incredible work in the space.
    To carry your last point…use it, well.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks, Tim. And I should point out that some law enforcement agencies are using social media well — and not just to communicate with the public but to engage the public from an operational perspective. There is some real potential, we just need to keep after ‘em!

  • atlhockeymom

    You hit the nail on the head Chris! DITTO!