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NYPD Twitter stunt foiled by hashtag hijack

Reuters

A New York Police Department campaign to burnish its image via social media instead produced a flood of pictures of apparent police brutality and tweets critical of the force being shared at a rate of thousands an hour.

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said on Wednesday he would continue and expand the NYPD Twitter campaign a day after it backfired, triggering an outpouring of negative images including police violence at New York’s Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, an NYPD officer pointing a gun at a dog, and an officer asleep in a subway car.

“The reality of policing is that oftentimes our actions are lawful, but they look awful,” Bratton told a news briefing at New York City Hall. “Most of those photos that I looked at are old news,” said Bratton, appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio to take over from Ray Kelly, who served for 12 years under de Blasio’s predecessor, Michael Bloomberg.

The department on Tuesday afternoon invited Twitter users to submit pictures of themselves with NYPD officers using the hashtag #mynypd, promising some would be posted on the NYPD Facebook page.

Within hours, a torrent of images depicting police brutality, violence and controversial tactics, most of which occurred under Kelly, deluged Twitter. Some of the images and tweets referred to the fatal New York police shootings of Sean Bell in 2006 and Amadou Diallo in 1999, each of which led to criminal trials in which all the officers were acquitted.

By Wednesday morning, the #mynypd hashtag had been tweeted more than 94,000 times. By afternoon, the viral campaign had spread across the country, sparking similarly critical images and tweets around hashtags aimed at police departments in Miami, Detroit, Los Angeles, Oakland and Chicago.

Saying he would continue and expand the Twitter campaign, Bratton noted that earlier this month, someone had captured a picture of a New York transit police officer guiding a blind woman to the subway, and posted it online. “Within about three hours, almost half a million people had basically seen that photo. What is wrong with that? We’re going to continue that. Send us your photos, good or bad,” he said.

Other high-profile Twitter campaigns that went awry include one launched by Comedy Central’s satirical Colbert Report that in March took down a tweet that many considered racist after it poked fun at a football team owner and sparked a #CancelColbert backlash.

Last fall, JPMorgan Chase & Co. the only large financial institution to have posted a profit during the 2007-2008 financial crisis, canceled plans for a senior executive to answer Twitter questions after a flood of critical #AskJPM tweets.