Twitterphobia and the mainstream media

Yesterday, the Greater Manchester police service implemented a brilliant idea — to log on Twitter every call they received over a 24-hour period. The Chief Constable, Peter Fahy, explained that he wanted

to use the experiment to demonstrate that only a third of the incidents reported are genuine crimes, with two thirds being ‘social work’ concerning incidents such as alcohol-related disturbances, relationship disputes and mental health issues.

Fahy told The Manchester Evening News, which is aggregating the tweets on its website: “This is not a gimmick. This is a genuine attempt to show people 24 hours of policing work. Crime is only one part but an important part of what we do.”

IMHO, the experiment was a brilliant success. It highlighted the amazing range of things that the police service is called upon to do, and made that point more forcefully than any official speech by a senior officer or Home Secretary could do.

But guess what? Some sections of the UK mainstream media — press and radio — spent the day carping about an alleged “waste” of police resources. Shouldn’t Manchester bobbies be out arresting criminals rather than sitting in an office “tweeting”? (Funny how that word can be used as a sneer. On the ‘Today’ programme, John Humphreys — Britain’s Technophobe-in-Chief — described tweets as “tiny Internet telephone messages”.) In fact, the tweets were done by two members of the Manchester force’s media department. But it’s interesting to see how unacknowledged bias (and technophobic snobbery) infects journalists who would bristle if one called them biased or partisan.