Big Brother Watch completely missed this story when it appeared in the press last Friday (not altogether surprising given that it was given only minimal coverage in the Metro – see right – and Star), but apparently West Midlands Police are about to employ a full-time ‘web cop’.
The officer will search for criticism of the police and use Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Bebo to promote the force.
Assistant Chief Constable Gordon Scobbie told Police Review yesterday: “There will be someone on the web chatting about West Midlands Police right now, about whether they have had bad service or if they have heard a rumour about guns and gangs.”
He added: “A lot of chatter is ill-informed. We need to be much smarter about identifying these conversations so we can join in and influence what people think.”
How can this possibly be a good use of a policeman’s time? The force will no doubt defend it by saying the ‘web cop’ will also look out for criminal activity online; but there are already more specific web-officers (e.g. in CEOP and the Fraud Squad) doing this on a case-by-case basis.
Two further points need to be made. Firstly, there are innumerable cases of officials from government or private companies trying to influence online behaviour and failing miserably. People invariably use the internet to air their greviances and will not appreciate having the official line repeated back to them.
Secondly, Big Brother Watch is concerned that this role is designed to prevent criticism of the police from taking place online. Those with understandable greviances should be free to air them in a democratic forum without fear of reprisal. We would appreciate the West Midlands police giving assurances that there will be no black-list created as a result of the web cop’s work.