Spanish police get tweeting with half-million followers
Updated: 2013-06-15 07:55
By Agence France-Presse in Madrid (China Daily)
Spain's national police have built up an army of more than half a million followers on Twitter, using them to help swoop on fugitives and get tip-offs on drug dealers in an open dialogue that has helped bring the force closer to the people.
Since it was set up four years ago, the Spanish feed has become one of most popular police Twitter accounts in the world, with the force regularly sending humorous tweets to attract followers.
As well as warning the public of new scams, the force often enlists the help of Spaniards, tweeting requests for information about drug dealers in particular, to be sent anonymously to a police e-mail address.
"If you know of anybody, a little group of narcos, or of a drugs sales point in Spain, tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org#CONFIDENCIAL, we will get them," ran a recent tweet.
Police say they have arrested 300 suspected drug traffickers since January 2012 thanks to information provided by Twitter users in response to these appeals for help.
Followers meanwhile routinely pass on to police information on new fraud techniques and flag Internet sites that distribute pornographic images of children.
"They provide us with a lot of really useful information. It is very powerful feedback for us," explained the force's social media manager, Carlos Fernandez Guerra, as he sat at his desk, regularly checking his iPhone and iPad.
"They are very useful stories which have absolutely revolutionized how police operate in Spain and in many other regions of the world that use us as a reference," the 39-year-old, dressed casually in jeans and a brown blazer, said.
Police representatives from Latin America, South Korea, Tunisia and Morocco have all visited to learn from Spain's experience, said Guerra.
The Spanish force initially opened its Twitter account in March 2009 as a means to communicate with the press.
But the number of followers exploded after a new social media-savvy director took the helm of Spain's national police in January 2012 and ordered the press department to develop content for the Twitter feed that would appeal to the general public.
The police feed just recently passed the half a million mark, with 500,362 Twitter followers - more than any other police force in the world except for the FBI, whose followers number more than 618,000.
Using social media to fight crime has given the police a new, direct link with the Spanish people who have in turn started to view the cops in a different light.
"What have police gained with their Twitter account? Undoubtedly a capacity to influence and reach the public which they never had before," said Enrique Dans, a professor of information systems at the IE Business School in Madrid.
"It has also generated a different vision of police which can lead people to work more closely and in a more friendly way with police. It is already happening."
The most popular message from the Spanish force, re-tweeted over 10,000 times, was sent out on July 1, 2012 - a night of nationwide celebrations after Spain's victory in the Euro 2012 football championship - asking for volunteers equipped with chainsaws and tractors to help put out a wildfire raging near the eastern town of Carlet.