Saturday, November 26, 2011

The persistent social media notice board (or "Singapore Police Force's first 'Facebook Arrest'")

In my view, the Singapore Police Force's (SPF) Facebook page is a very successful social media initiative by a government agency, in terms of public awareness, receptivity and amount of consistent "chatter" (i.e. comments).

I've not done any recent environment scan, let alone a comprehensive survey. But looking at the comments and number of congratulatory Likes for its recent "win", it's easy to conclude that the SPF Facebook page is certainly a popular one:
Singapore Police Makes Its First “Facebook Arrest”

The "win" was this, as reported by ChannelNewsAsia, 25 Nov 2011 (emphasis are mine):
SINGAPORE: Police have arrested two loanshark suspects based on a lead that came from a photo that was posted on the police Facebook page in July 2009.

A netizen called the 999 number on November 11 after seeing the photo, saying he could identify the suspect.

Fuller details over at the SPF press release, "Singapore Police Makes Its First “Facebook Arrest", 25 Nov 2011:
This significant development came about on 11 Nov 2011 when a public-spirited person called 999 and informed that he could identify a loanshark suspect from a photo posted on the Police Facebook Page since July 2009. This has led to the arrest of the suspect and another suspect, both 19 years old, for suspected involvement in loanshark harassment activities in the Bukit Merah area. Investigations are ongoing.

At first I missed the part about the initial public appeal for information posted in July 2009 (ASIDE: for a skimmer like me, maybe the post could have said something like "Facebook breakthrough for a two-year old unsolved crime..." or something to that effect).

Anyway, I understood why the SPF considered it a significant "operational breakthrough". The inference was that traditional channels (newspapers or TV) tend to have a limited duration before information fades from public awareness. Even if people remember something, verifying it via the source would be hard beyond a few weeks.

I'm reminded of the "Think Before You Post" advisory video, warning young people about the persistent nature of the Internet. For fighting crime, that quality is a good thing.

I also noted that the SPF Press Release stated that one of their aims, for starting their Facebook Page in 2009, was to "(take) advantage of the viral nature of social media".

I'm not entirely clear how much of the cascading effect took place. Reading the press release, I understood the sequence of events to be:
  1. SPF posts the information on the suspects on Facebook in 2009.
  2. Fast-forward to 2011, a member of the public recognised the suspect and contacted the SPF.

I wonder how that member spotted the FB photos of the suspects. Scrolled all the way to earlier posts? Heard about it through a friend, who heard it from a friend? Maybe even a fall-out among gang members and using the FB post to disguise the fact that the caller already knew the suspects?

But the above is moot (and probably suggests I've too active an imagination).

What's important is that the case was resolved, with the help of the public. This "Facebook Arrest" is also likely to send a strong signal to would-be-criminals about the even longer arm of the law.

Of course the downside of a "social media cascading effect" would be called a social media witch-hunt, or Internet Vigilantism. The viral nature of social media works both ways.

Having said that, I don't recall a case of a social media witch-hunt in Singapore. Which may suggest that for something as serious as identifying suspects to the police, Singaporeans are a calm and rational lot on the whole.

Which also suggests to me that the public has a very high level of trust in the SPF's thoroughness and professionalism.

I certainly have.

The SPF would not receive any public tip-offs at all, never mind through a social media channel, if it did not have the trust of the populace.

I think that's one reason for it being a successful on Facebook.

When the SPF identifies someone as a suspect, intuitively I do not question that. I would have assumed the SPF has enough evidence to make that charge (it's not a small thing to be publicly announced as a suspect in a police investigation, even if subsequently proven to be innocent).

That sort of trust is like Internet reputations: Slow to earn, fast to destroy.

Gladly, the SPF has maintained that social trust for as long as I can remember. Its efforts in maintaining its Facebook page does a good job of reinforcing that, and probably enhancing it. I've always admired was the consistent level of chatter over at their Facebook page. I don't get a sense of it being an echo chamber effect.

It's not just my view about the SPF being successful on social media:
On the topic of strategies, and agencies needing to know what they want to use social media for, the Singapore Police Force was brought up as a role model that knew exactly what they wanted to use the social platforms for—information sharing and recruitment—and used it well.

I was told the above was an unsolicited comment about the SPF. Yet another win.

Back in May 2008, I wrote a three-parter on whether the SPF should have a blog (part 1, part 2, part 3).

They started their Facebook page in July 2009. Some people feel Facebook makes blogs redundant, but I've a different opinion -- perhaps for another post.

I wonder if SPF is planning for "the next step" wrt social media engagement. In my view, they are doing a darn good job already. I don't forsee the SPF embarking on the level of engagement like this last case study I blogged about, here and here).

But then again, maybe the SPF will lead the way. Again :)

UPDATE: Walter blogs about it, here.


  1. Hi, Ivan. I'm going to go off point here, so I'll ask you please to excuse me in advance. I've just left Xiaxue's blog - I'm sure that you're familiar with it, or at least know of it. The woman's a marketing genius, one well worth studying to figure out just how she succeeds so remarkably well at blogging, and since you conduct blog workshops, I thought you might appreciate this input. You'll remember that I'm a rather bookish person (to say the least), but do enjoy a good laugh and like to think that I have a good sense of humour (I believe that one of your colleagues will readily attest to this). Xiaxue often has me rolling in the aisles. She's so adept at being outrageous and charming and endearing all at the same time! How, exactly, does she do it? I'd love for you to give us your take on this exceptional personality in a blog-post one of these times as well as hearing what your other fans think of Xiaxue.Thanks for tolerating the off-topic comment:-).

  2. Hello Ollie, let me think about writing an extended post :) My quick take is that she's not afraid to "create her own brand" (in your own assessment, "outrageous and charming and endearing"). I've met once or twice and discovered that she's a lot milder in person (I think alot of bloggers are like that). But online, she's managed to write in a voice and tone that she can comfortably sustain. She chooses her topics and times her posts quite well. In the final analysis, I'm sure her real self is also a little outrageous, charming and endearing. I would think that's why she continues to be popular with her readers.

  3. Ollie7:17 pm

    Hey, Ivan. Thanks for replying. Yes, I would think that she is milder in person. She's so very good at assuming a role and casting herself in the movie that is her blog - the movie that to some extent is the movie we all unavoidably enact and live in - or, more to the point, that lives in and through us. I am always stunned at how astute she is at selecting and assembling the mediated desires - the desire for certain desires - of the culture (please excuse the pedantic phrasing; don't yet know how else to put it). She then takes these desires to the max where they become (wittingly? wo bu zhi tao) parody - and she succeeds in coming across as doing this without malice. I think she's having a lot of fun, a lot of laughs. Just think of how she must sometimes howl watching herself on her blog. Anyway, she's great - and there's a master's thesis and book about her and her blog just waiting to be written. Thanks again, wo de pengyou.


Join the conversation. Leave a comment :)