Jon Collins, Deputy Director of the Police Foundation, on why he tweets.
To Tweet or not to Tweet?
When I sat down to write this post I was confident I would be able to dash something off in a few minutes. After all I spend quite a bit of time on Twitter, including during my evenings and weekends, so working out the reasons why shouldn’t have been too difficult. The reality was, however, somewhat different and the unexpected result of my first attempt at this article was that I questioned whether I should be on Twitter at all.
While it might have made an interesting contribution to this series if writing it had put me off Twitter altogether, it hasn’t quite come to that. And it probably shouldn’t have surprised me that some scepticism about Twitter has resurfaced, as I was something of a late and reluctant convert to it. Initially I didn’t see its value and thought that its popularity would quickly fade. And even when I first joined I hid behind the organisational account of my then employer @cjalliance rather than having my own profile. But, having joined in my own right more than 18 months ago, I have become, relatively speaking, a prolific user of Twitter. But why?
Testing out ideas
Firstly, it is a way to discuss issues with a wide range of people who I might not otherwise come into regular contact with. It also provides an opportunity to test out ideas and find out what people think about current events and news stories. From the point of view of my employer, the Police Foundation, Twitter is an important way to promote and discuss our work, to share our opinions, and to access audiences that we do not otherwise reach. Importantly for a small charity, Twitter has the additional advantage of being free.
Twitter is also a brilliant way to find the answer to questions. Just recently I asked on Twitter about changes to health and safety legislation under this Government. Within minutes I had an answer, and a couple of jokes thrown in for free.
As well as being a place to broadcast and discuss my own views and thoughts, such as they are, Twitter is also a great way to keep abreast of what’s going on. It is an easy way to get access to a live news feed that is effectively tailored to my current interests, while also keeping an eye on broader debates around politics and public policy. It means I am often a step ahead of non-tweeting colleagues with breaking news and largely feel well-informed on current affairs. It is certainly more informative and comprehensive than the copy of Metro that I normally end up reading on the tube on my way to work.
In the last few months Twitter has also become a quick and easy way to get involved in the debate about one of the biggest current issues in the policing world, the introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners. More than any other this issue dominates my Twitter feed and for many of my newer followers I’m sure it is what they know me for. This is both a good thing – I’m pleased that on behalf of the Police Foundation I’m engaging with a range of people on one of our priority issues – and a problem. Come November, when the elections have been and gone, I’ll need to find something new to comment on and there is a risk that followers will drift off.
If there is one real downside to Twitter, it’s that it can eat up time. As much as possible I try to respond to people who contact me, while the feast of articles that pop up on my Twitter feed, which I would otherwise have missed, are frequently both fascinating and time consuming. Reducing the number of people that I follow has, in the past, helped to reduce the time I spend on the site, but it also limits access to the breadth of opinion and knowledge that makes Twitter so useful.
There is also the issue of abuse. This is rarely a significant concern for me but when I have taken a view on a controversial issue, as I have in past on prisoners’ voting rights for example, the response can be robust to say the least. Some of this is simply strongly-worded engagement in the debate, which is always welcome. Other responses are just mindless swearing, which is easy to ignore. But I am nonetheless regularly surprised by people’s willingness to be extraordinarily rude to a complete stranger on the internet in a way that they never would in person.
Despite this, overall I think that being on Twitter has benefits that far outweigh the downsides. Above all, there are people that I have discussed a range of issues with that I would never have encountered if it wasn’t for Twitter, and my knowledge and understanding of policing would have been poorer as a result.
This is the 22nd post in the criminal justice/legal Why I tweet series. Read the others here.
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