UP police makes friends with social media influencers to check rumours, connect with people

Saurabh Sharma July 18, 2017

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The easiest way to be seen and noticed in social circles is to hang out with popular people. Uttar Pradesh (UP) Police recognise this, and will soon be joining hands with the state’s social media influencers on Twitter and Facebook to expand their digital reach.

The country’s largest police force is all set to launch its latest initiative — Digital Mitra or Digital Volunteer — in August on a pilot basis. Some handpicked volunteers — about 24 for the first phase in August — will start sharing and retweeting UP Police’s posts on their social media accounts, thereby helping expand the reach and visibility of the police’s messages.

Come August, some handpicked volunteers — about 24 to begin with — will start sharing and retweeting UP Police’s posts on their social media accounts  

Explaining why this was important, public relationship officer (PRO) to the director general of police (DGP), Rahul Srivastava, cited Dalits-Rajput clash in Saharanpur in the state in May. He described how rumours worked as a catalyst in fuelling the fire of casteist tension, which ultimately took the shape of riots. Srivastava is the deputy superintendent of UP police.

“We know a lot of social media influencers who have a good number of followers both on Twitter and Facebook. This programme will definitely rein in rumour-mongering and bridge the gap between the police and the public,” Srivastava told FactorDaily.

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DSP and PRO Rahul Srivastav (centre), Uttar Pradesh Police, receives the Super Cop award for providing the best twitter services to address grievances at the Annual Police Conference, 2017, in New Delhi in February

Lucknow resident and mass communication student Abhay Raj said the Twitter handle of UP police is prompt in replying to people. Referring to the role of rumours in fanning the Saharanpur riots, he said: “If such content can be diluted at the ground level itself, then it will really be helpful for police and will be in the favour of the society.”

“If the police come to know about things happening at the grassroots level, we will be able to solve the problems through these people, whom we are going to call Digital Mitra or Digital Volunteer” — Rahul Srivastava, director general of police

The digital volunteers will not only help check the spread of rumours by debunking them on social platforms, but will also alert the police about the circulation of such messages. “If the police come to know about things happening at the grassroots level, we will be able to solve the problems through these people, whom we are going to call Digital Mitra or Digital Volunteer. These volunteers will convey the message of the police to the public and vice-versa,” Srivastava said.

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He informed that the project would be launched in all zonal headquarters and in Noida and Ghaziabad. Public response and results will decide the future of the initiative. He declined to share the Twitter handles of the volunteers at this stage but said their names would be disclosed soon.

Logging on to the future

The idea of roping in digital volunteers was given by inspector general of police, Allahabad range, Ramit Sharma. In a Facebook post in September 2015, he had emphasised the need to take community policing online and invited suggestions. “There is a need to translate the community policing structure of SPOs (special police officers) and peace committee members to the contemporary social media environment by associating social media influencers of local geographic reach and good credentials with police on various social media platforms,” wrote Sharma.

“I wrote that Facebook post after analysing that people are most active and vocal on virtual platforms. So, I thought of seeking suggestions from the public for this Digital Volunteer initiative. I was surprised to see the number of people who came forward with ideas and suggestions,” said Sharma,  an IIT Kanpur graduate.

“When there is awareness among people regarding the digital platforms of the police, the condition of law and order will definitely improve,” said Sharma.

“When there is awareness among people regarding the digital platforms of the police, the condition of law and order will definitely improve” — Ramit Sharma, inspector general of police, Allahabad range  

Srivastava said the then DGP Javeed Ahmad had in January 2016 issued a circular to implement this programme, but it took time to materialise as the police had to seek suggestions from people. UP police sought people’s views on the topic through its Twitter handle, a hashtag (#DVUPP) and email (dvupp@gmail.com) and are finally ready to implement the programme.

Prabhu Jhingran, a veteran employee of Lucknow Doordarshan, has high hopes from this initiative. He said the world has moved to social media and this was the right time to rope in people whose tweets and posts can stop rumours and bring about change.

Yogendra Singh, a gram panchayat member, tweeted: “Digital volunteers will help the police to identify anti-social elements from the society. I urge all such volunteers to get active on twitter if they have faith in our police.”

Last September, UP police became one of the first few government departments in the country to adopt Twitter Sewa, an initiative that seeks to connect people with administrators. FactorDaily had explained in a detailed post how the service is designed to work. The UP police tracks all the complaints logged by the social media cell of the DGP headquarter in Lucknow and issues a ticket for each complaint.

Reviewing the Twitter Seva initiative three weeks later, IANS reported that of the over 10,000 tweets received on the @UPpolice Twitter handle, 70% were addressed within hours. The article noted how the service enabled the police to prevent a suicide; help an elderly man whom someone was intimidating in Noida; settle domestic strife; and resolve traffic snarls.

Apart from UP police, Bengaluru City Police are also known for their net-savvy approach, helping people with crucial information and posting meme-updates, which have become wildly popular among netizens.

 


The ‘Tech Meets Bharat’ series brings to you stories on how technology is impacting and changing lives in hinterland India. Saurabh Sharma is a Lucknow-based independent journalist and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.