Police forces around the country are shaking off the image of cops as an unsocial lot. In fact, they are turning to social media to help them interact more with the town’s residents and catch crooks.
If it were an official computer application, it might be called Gotcha! Unfortunately, that name has already been snatched up by a software that helps teachers and college profs catch cheating students.
Over in Alva, the police department has launched its own Facebook page
(http://www.facebook.com/pages/Alva-OK/Alva-Oklahoma-Police-Department/2944649877770). It not only features photos and information designed to let citizens help them find suspects. It also connects the department to the community in ways not possible before the social networking era.
Connecting police to the town
On that page you can find photos of the APD vs. AFD 2010 AFD Mud Run, and feedback from Alva residents about how great it is to see police officers and firefighters stage a fun event like that for charity.
Oklahoma City police also have their own Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Oklahoma-City-OK/Oklahoma-City-Police-Department/65444419168), and it is full of official reports albeit short on the friendly community flavor of Alva’s page.
Alva’s Facebook page lists some 800 friends, while the Oklahoma City PD page lists some 4,700. Compared to the relative sizes of the two cities, Alva police have a higher percentage of residents connected to their page.
Elsewhere in the country, police in the northeast Ohio town of Medina are using Facebook in several unique ways. Not only are they asking for residents’ help in spotting at-large suspects; they are becoming “friends” with those suspects themselves, sometimes on the fugitives’ own FB pages.
Stories like this have to join the growing list of stupid criminal jokes. Seems it’s not just college students posting pictures of themselves violating university rules; felony suspects have their own Facebook pages, too.
Last year, Medina Police searched Facebook the first time for a suspect, arresting a 27-year-old man who had fled an old warrant for drug charges. The department believes this may have been the first case in Ohio – if not the country – of police using Facebook to catch fugitives.
“Thirty years ago, we posted wanted fliers at the post office; today it’s Facebook,” Police Chief Patrick Berarducci told the Akron Beacon Journal. “I’m shocked at how fast this first arrest came in.”
Seeking the town’s help
Also in Ohio, the Reynoldsburg Division of Police has begun its own Facebook page in which it posts news about outstanding arrest warrants, pictures of suspects and of missing persons, latest crime stats for the area, you name it. The idea is to get citizens to help them in spotting suspects and to alert residents to criminal activity in the area.
Detective Mike Bender told the Columbus NBC-TV affiliate, “We picked the clearest photos (of suspects) we could and posted them on Facebook. This is a quick way to reach a large number of the population. Also, people log onto their Facebook accounts all the time and this way people can access the info when they want it.”
Reynoldsburg is only one of many police departments, large and small, around the country that have turned to the social media to help fight crime.
Seems like it works all the way over in Maine, too.
“Smile!” You’re on Candid Camera
In Auburn, police had a Facebook page up for less than three weeks before residents identified the video of three vandalism suspects in action, taken by a surveillance camera during the crime. Police in this Maine town also posted another video showing a suspect stealing a snowboard from a local ski shop. They expect that will lead to an arrest, too.
Auburn Deputy Police Chief Jason Moen told the Associated Press, “This latest arrest is proof positive that this is just another way for us to use emerging technology.”
The Web site, ‘Inside Facebook,” (www.insidefacebook.com) chronicles a few ways in which still other police departments are using the social media and why.
In the Indianapolis suburb of Greenville, for example, the police department posts the Indiana Sheriff’s Sex and Violent Offender Registry as one of its Links. They also link to the citizens group of Crime Stoppers of Central Indiana.
Helpful hints in California
The Salinas, Calif., PD issues press releases on Facebook and Twitter and provides helpful information for town residents. For example, in one January post, they told residents what to do during a bad storm if they saw a downed power line and provided emergency phone numbers for the gas and electric company.
Big cities like Chicago and Dallas also have active FB pages, although many of the smaller departments seem to actually take more care personalizing their pages, perhaps reflecting the connectedness of their communities. That seemed to be the same pattern in the Oklahoma City and Alva pages, as mentioned earlier.
Facebook and Twitter have proven to be a particularly good way for police to reach young people who have pretty much turned out the mainstream media newscasts and newspapers. For example, the sheriff’s department in Gainesville, Fla., responded to a survey showing many of the University of Florida students don’t watch or read the news. But nearly all of them were logging onto Facebook regularly.
All in all, it’s not your father’s police force anymore.
There is a scene from the romantic comedy classic, You’ve Got Mail, when Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) is trying to soothe hurt feelings with Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) and finds himself with writer’s block. At this point, he does what seems rational and starts quoting lines from The Godfather about the schism between business and personal relationships.
“It’s not personal, it’s business,” he writes.
On the receiving end, Kathleen screws up her nose wondering what the heck Joe is talking about and how he means it. Things between them get more complicated from there.
The lack of nonverbal assets is a well known problem with e-mailing and texting. The words are there, they convey their dictionary (denotative) meanings, but that’s pretty much all.
And it’s not enough. Not by the longest shot.
It’s especially not enough when we use e-mails as a default means of winning arguments or defending ourselves through reasoning when everyone involved is upset because of emotional hurt.
That’s where the need for nonverbals comes in, loud and clear.
A soft voice. A kind look. A reassuring touch.
Words aren’t enough
With e-mails and texting, you get only words when feelings and eye contact are needed.
Nonverbal communication is generally understood as the process of sending and receiving wordless messages. Smiley faces and other “emoticons” aside, you cannot do that either in e-mails or in texting.
The language of nonverbal communication can be body language, spatial distance, clothing, hairstyles, symbols, music, and art. Within speech itself, there are also nonverbal elements such as voice intonation, rhythm, pitch, and stress. Even within written text there are a couple nonverbal elements, but one is handwriting style which – of course – you can’t have with e-mails unless you scan in a handwritten letter. The other is the emoticon which is better than nothing, but well … does that really do the job?
We’ve all been involved in those oops-moments when we have spoken before thinking, causing blunt-force trauma to our relationship with the target of our misstatement. And most of us have tried to soothe the hurt feelings by way of an e-mail or text message. Maybe we’ve even tried to explain or justify our statement in what we thought was a rationally written message.
And, finally, most of us have seen how ineffective that venue is for healing injured feelings.
One reason is that when we compose a written message — as I am doing now — we are engaging in exclusive, one-way communication. We may think we are talking with another person, but essentially we are having a converation with ourselves. Why? Because we’re the only one listening (reading) as we write. The other individual has no chance to hear us as we compose our message, nor to interrupt us and offer a course correction.
Not so interactive
So this vaunted form of “interactive” communication — this great online venue of chatting — is only interactive after we hit the send button. And by then, again as most of us know, it can be too late. Have you ever wanted to reach out and grab a message back that you just sent on its merry way? If so, you’re only one of tens of millions who have experienced that moment.
The moral? If the relationship you have just dented is that important to you, get up, go over to that person’s office or home, and tell them face-to-face you are sorry things got screwed up.
Seen any good movies lately?
Seen any good movies with live actors?
Seen any good movies with live actors acting in real locations?
If not, you’ve been watching too many CGI films. But you’re not alone. So has everyone else. Opening weekends for digital-effects films produce standing-room-only theater seating.
As most movie buffs know by now, CGI films are movies using computer generated imagery to wow us and take us to some far-off place in our imagination. A movie can be shot entirely using CGI (like Up or Shrek) or with a blend of real actors, locations, and CGI like (Lord of the Rings or the more recent Avatar.)
Computer generated imagery relies heavily on digital effects for spectacular images and action sequences, impossible to achieve using traditional film techniques. And the effect actually costs much more – in most cases – than it would to film the scene using more traditional methods.
CGI is now the dominant form used by moviemakers for special effects. For you trivia bugs, the first film to use three-dimensional CGI was made in 1976 and it was not (contrary to popular belief) Star Wars. It was a film called, Futureworld, starring Peter Fonda and Blythe Danner as two reporters trying to track down why people are being killed in a fantasy resort. The film was a sequel to the 1973 Michael Crichton movie, Westworld, starring Yul Brynner as a gunslinger who was too good to be real.
The Abyss raises the stakes
Through years of experimentation and improvements, the techniques of CGI blossomed in 1989’s film by James Cameron, The Abyss, starring Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. The film focused on a deep-sea adventure of a diving team, enlisted to find a lost nuclear submarine, who find something far more interesting instead in a lost deep-sea city. The company that would come to be the standard of CGI craftsmanship, Georg’s Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) won an Oscar for its watery sea creature in that movie.
How popular are CGI films? Even a cursory glance at box-office charts provides a clear answer to that question. Six CGI films alone — Avatar, Titanic, Spider-Man, Matrix Reloaded, Terminator 3, and Pearl Harbor (remember the attack scenes?) – have grossed $2.4 billion in U.S. ticket revenues alone. Multiply that a few times for worldwide box office revenues.
Even more telling, all ten of the top ten U.S. box-office films in history have utilized computer generated imagery. One of them, Shrek 2, was filmed entirely using GGI.
Good and bad
In 2005, NPR host Alex Chadwick talked with Slate magazine contributor Edward Jay Epstein, author of the classic book, News from Nowhere, about the pros and cons of CGI filmmaking. Chadwick was asking about the somewhat strange-looking face of actor Arnold Scharzenegger in the film, Terminator 3, a comment that began the following exchange:
EPSTEIN: Well, it’s even stranger because they actually even created an entire clone. They digitally scanned in Arnold Schwarzenegger and they created an entire clone of him. But that’s what’s happening. What’s happening now is you’re making two movies; one is a live-action movie and the other is a digital effects movie. They’re made separately at different times in different places.
CHADWICK: And as you write, it becomes a problem for the director because they can’t actually know how all the digital effects stuff is going to come out. So when they go to put the movie together, to marry the live-action stuff to the effects and here they have a deadline, and what happens if it doesn’t work?
EPSTEIN: Well, there are few directors who actually could get more budget and more time. But what’s really happening is that they are losing control over the movies. The bad news about digital effects is that it’s being done by a separate group separately; the good news is that it’s eye-popping for the audience.
CHADWICK: I haven’t seen “King Kong” yet, but I know a couple of people who have, who saw early versions of it, and they say that for all these digital effects, it still doesn’t look as good as the movie back in 1933. Now how could that be?
EPSTEIN: Well, it’s very easy. Digital effects creates an illusion, but so do other things like puppets. And the story is what counts in all movies. If you have a bad story–and sometimes digital effects ruin a story because the fact they can do something, they feel a compulsion to do it. And so sometimes you get a glitch in a story. It’s not all the effects; I would say it’s 90 percent story.
The debate over the artistic value of special effects vs. story is an ongoing one among moviegoers, moviemakers, and movie critics. Many feel that the reason Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby won the Best Picture Oscar in 2004 over the CGI-enhanced Lord of the Rings: Return of the King was because MDB used no CGI, but instead majored on story and character. Six years later, the same phenomenon occurred when The Hurt Locker won Best Picture over the CGI film, Avatar.
All of which conjures up a sleeper of a 2002 film called, Simone, wherein the name stands for SimulationOne. In it, Al Pacino plays a washed-up Hollywood director who is given a computer program to create a beautiful, lifelike movie star (played by Rachel Roberts) who he can insert seamlessly into any film he creates, playing off live actors and enthralling audiences in the process.
An interesting question
Although the story stretches the bounds of credibility, the question it asks is a simple and profound one: What if a director could use computer-generated actors, who reeked flesh-and-blood personae, without telling anyone they weren’t real? Would the moviegoer really care?
The answer is probably yes and no, depending on what you are looking for in a film. But then take a look again at those top ten box-office films of all time and ask yourself just how virtual has the reality of movies really become?
A couple years ago, an honor student at a conservative private college in Kentucky decided to do what a growing number of students are doing these days: use his Facebook account to come out of the closet and tell others he is gay.
For his openness, he was expelled from this college which had a policy of not accepting gay students.
At another university, a sophomore posted pictures of himself getting plastered at a weekend party. That would have been okay had it not been for the fact he was under the legal drinking age in Ohio and the school did not allow students to hold leadership positions on campus if they were drinking illegally.
He never became editor.
These are just two of many examples of young people who have chosen to live their lives out loud. Throwing caution to the wind, the typical 20-something who has grown up in the age of chatrooms and interactive media has embraced social media sites like Facebook to disclose just about everything they think is either shocking, amusing, or titillating about himself or herself.
And this phenomenon starts early, as the tragic cases of teen suicide over the practice of “sexting” have shown the past couple of years.
I began discovering this lack of concern about privacy a few years ago and have been asking my own college students about it ever since. Originally I asked it in the context of a class I teach on communication ethics. We deal with a section on individual privacy vs. government surveillance, which is a topic that I find somewhat scary because I’ve always wondered how widespread the misuse of government surveillance might be on Americans.
Too many blank stares
Citing some examples of such abuse, I ask my students if they aren’t a bit concerned, too. In return, I usually get silence and some blank stares. So I’m thinking that these are the same students who are willingly giving up their own privacy by self-disclosing about themselves to virtual strangers online, so why should they feel concerned about someone else invading their privacy? And apparently that is true. They aren’t.
So then I ask them if they aren’t concerned about disclosing too much information about themselves in Facebook. Again, a lot of blank stares and silence. I infer from this reaction that either they haven’t ever thought about this as a problem, or they think I’m out of a prehistoric generation that keeps too many secrets about themselves.
A third possibility is that they trust the privacy filters on Facebook as much as they seem to trust faceless government officials who controls the means to surveillance.
Who’s to blame
When I tell them about what happened to the Kentucky student or the kid at the Ohio university, they seem shocked. They usually get on the case of the administrations at these two schools, debating their policies they think got the students into trouble. I remind them, however, it was the students, who knew these policies, who got themselves into trouble by living their lives out loud.
Because of these encounters with my own students, I was surprised to see a story in the New York Times recently that revealed the results of a survey done by researchers at the University of California at Berkeley showing this thinking may be shifting among young people.
The study, funded by the Pew Internet Project, found that over half of these young adults surveyed are now more worried about their own privacy they were in 2005. That figures is about equal of the number of people their parents’ age or older who are concerned about their privacy.
Just as surprising is people in their 20s are taking more control over their “digital reputations” than are their older counterparts. They delete threatening posts and are starting to limit information about themselves. This finding could, however, be the result of younger people knowing how to engage those digital filters more than older adults who spend less time with the social media.
Possibly because many Facebook users are finding the built-in filters aren’t foolproof, many young people are all of a sudden worried about those party pix or those tell-all announcements of their sexual orientation.
Young people are also hearing, from older people like me, about how college administrators and employers are tracking Facebook and MySpace to find out more information about individuals applying for leadership posts in college or jobs beyond graduation. So that’s starting to give them pause.
Learning to distrust filters
The Times article, written by Laura M. Holson, talks about Sam Jackson, a junior at Yale who began a blog when he was 15 and who has already interned at Google. Jackson said he had learned not to trust any social network to keep his information private.
“If I go back and look, there are things four years ago I would not say today,” he told the Times. “I am much more self-censoring. I’ll try to be honest and forthright, but I am conscious now who I am talking to.”
Says Holson, “He has learned to live out loud mostly by trial and error and has come up with his own theory: concentric layers of sharing. His Facebook account, which he has had since 2005, is strictly personal. “
“I don’t want people to know what my movie rentals are,” Jackson said. “If I am sharing something, I want to know what’s being shared with others.”
Thirteen years ago I was in Dallas talking to the online editor (a new concept then) of a newspaper I once worked for, The Dallas Morning News. The trial of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was starting up in Denver, and we were discussing how the story was being covered in the press.
The Morning News had just come under fire for releasing details of a private conversation McVeigh had with his attorney wherein McVeigh said he had chosen the time of day (9:01 on April 19, 1995) for the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building to “increase the body count.”
The story went national and appeared shortly before the jury in the federal case was to be selected. The fact the details were published immediately in the paper’s online edition had made it more troubling.
The computer disk containing the McVeigh interview was leaked to the Morning News by a member of the defnese team who said he didn’t know the interview was on it. He said he was providing the disk to the paper because of some FBI records it contained.
As for McVeigh, he now told his lawyer he now had zero chance of getting any sympathetic jurors or getting favorable treatment from the judge, since the story had gone national with the Dallas paper’s Web edition.
While none of the Denver jurors would have had reason to see the print edition of the Dallas newspaper, they did have ready access to the online edition and McVeigh’s incendiary comment.
A hazard of the job
My editor friend told me that was one of the hazards of his job with the online edition: The time cushion between the actual event being covered and its publication was gone. It had disappeared in the expectation that the story would go immediately into the Web edition. There was no time for
reflection about its possible result in swaying potential jurors in a case where the whole trial had been moved out of state to minimize any influence.
The concept of reporting that is done with such blazing speed is what I referred to first in the mid-1990s as Turbonews. It’s even faster today.
Admittedly, it is impossible to sympathize with Timothy McVeigh. I covered the Oklahoma City bombing myself as a reporter and was outraged by the devastation wrought by this man who was ultimately convicted and executed.
But, like my editor friend in Dallas, I do worry about the disappearing cushion of time that reporters now face in such potential influential stories as the leaked McVeigh interview. He had not yet been tried when this story came out in the Dallas paper. The appearance of the story could have delayed the trial or even possibly resulted in a defense motion to dismiss for prejudicial pre-trial publicity.
In this case, it is hard to envision the latter happening but — in a less emotionally charged case — it might have.
I also worry about how stories meant for local audiences now automatically become national stories because of the Web. That is especially so when a local story can have a troublesome effect on an event happening in another part of the country.
Pressure of competition
A related worry is an editor’s rush to judgement not just because of the speed that Web journalism publication mandates, but because of pressure to publish now because of a related story another newspaper may be publishing clear across the country.
While this concern is especially acute these days because everyone has access to online editions of newspapers, the problem even pre-dates the creation of the Web.
For example, in 1979, an editor for the Montana newspaper, The Missoulian, felt a rush to judgement on a highly sensitive story involving a young local woman who had been murdered in Washington, D.C. The victim’s name was Cindy Herbig, a star at her Missoula high school
who had gone to Radcliffe for a semester, then dropped out of sight and became a prostitute in the nation’s capital. Her murder was one of the brutal hazards of her profession.
The editor, Rod Deckert, received word of Cindy’s death one night from a local funeral home official who was skimpy with details for obvious reasons. So Deckert began exchanging phone calls with a Washington Post reporter who was preparing a big “fallen angel” story for the Post that would appear in a couple days.
Read it here, or there
For Deckert, the problem was that residents of Missoula could buy the Washington Post from local dealers, and the Post planned to amplify distribution of the story through its national news service to media everywhere.
So Deckert had to make a whole bunch of decisions in very quick succession. Although The Missoulian was a hometown paper and had an added mission to treat Missoula residents with sensitivity and respect, he knew the Post’s story could be read by anyone in town. Even had he wanted to present Cindy’s death as an obituary and go light on details, how would readers react in reading the details in a far-off metro daily with no such value-added mission? What might they think of their own newspaper’s covering-up the details?
More sensitive treatment
Deckert chose the option of publishing the details, over the Herbig family’s objections, but doing so in a more moderate way than the Post was doing. It opened itself up for the ensuing firestorm from local readers and advertisers, published some 150 letters to the editor in the days to come, and reserved the final word in a letter from Cindy’s parents.
Deckert at least had a couple days to make these decisions. Had this event happened today, he would have had to make his decisions immediately because of the online presence of newspapers like The Washington Post.
Like oil and water
I have often told my college journalism students that accuracy and speed often mix about as well as oil and water. Given the difficulty of obtaining the best obtainable version of the truth, it is amazing the news media get it right as often as they do. But the pressure that reporters and editors are under as a result of online media has made that job even harder for those who would separate fact from rumor.
As tantalizing and ubiquitious as rumors are on the Web, they too often fall short of the truth.
Any way you slice it, that is bad news.