Have you checked Facebook.com today? Or maybe the better question is, how many times? The Oxford Police (OPD) are trying to harness the popularity of the social networking site, along with MySpace.com, to help police and connect with the community. Students can now become Facebook fans of the OPD. The editorial board of The Miami Student supports the department’s creative effort to reach students, but remains cautious in its optimism that students will be receptive.
The OPD must be clear in its stated purpose by outlining what it will and won’t do with its Facebook presence. The OPD’s presence on Facebook is to facilitate communication between students and law enforcement. However, we do not know if becoming a fan of the OPD would allow the police to see students’ profiles. OPD must make a concerted effort to address this student concern and make sure to not turn what could be a good public relations move into one of suspicion. Although students don’t need to fear legal consequences from possibly incriminating photos posted on the site, we feel that students still may be hesitant to become a fan of the OPD. But this very hesitancy is something the Facebook page itself could combat.
The page is meant to make the police more accessible to students. By going to where the students are online, rather than waiting for students to search out their existing Web site, the OPD may be able to increase student awareness about the force. Instead of being seen only in the context of issuing you a traffic ticket or arresting your underage friend for drinking, maybe the OPD will come to be seen as a source of help. The page provides links to the official police site where students can appeal parking citations and submit anonymous crime tips. Currently, the Facebook page includes surveillance photos of a theft in hopes that someone recognizes the suspect and can aid in identification. The OPD can also use its page to disseminate information, such as crime alerts.
The only potential problem rests in student response. If very few students become fans because of social stigma, the OPD will fail to reach its target demographic. More importantly, the benefits increase as more people participate. The larger the fan-base, the more people will see crime photos, thus increasing the likelihood that a suspect is to be identified.
On the other extreme, if many people become fans and use the anonymous tip feature to seek revenge by reporting illicit activity on the part of an enemy, then the OPD will be flooded by petty tips. So it is important that students realize that while OPD is on Facebook, they still need to take them seriously. Ultimately, students will determine the success of the OPD’s presence on social networking sites. The OPD Facebook page is a good idea in theory, but students must be open to it for it to be effective.