Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Live-tweeting a prostitution sting is a terrible idea

The police department of Prince George's County in Maryland decided to hold a prostitution sting to arrest sex workers and would-be clients next week. That's not uncommon.

But they then decided it was a good idea to live-tweet the sting as it was happening — which would include taking photos of suspects and posting them on Twitter — using the hashtag #PGPDVice.

What's more, the department decided to announce this decision in advance, patting itself on the back for its "progressive, and we believe unprecedented, social media tactic."

When it announced the sting on its blog, the Police Department claimed it would target "those soliciting prostitutes." After the backlash they received from sex-worker advocates late Thursday, they published a second blog post doubling down on that claim: "Our Vice Unit will target those who choose to solicit a prostitute, not prostitutes themselves."

But the photo on the original blog post announcing the sting showed a police officer escorting a woman with her hands zip-tied behind her back — which implied that even if they won't be "targeting" sex workers for arrest, they still may be taking pictures of them. (That picture has since been removed from the post, but the Police Department has not explicitly said they won't be arresting or taking py.)

It's mystifying that the police would think that live-tweeting a sting would get them any good publicity. After all, it was just last week that the New York Police Department saw its attempt at Twitter outreach go terribly, when they tried to start the hashtag #myNYPD to get pictures of people hanging out with the cops and instead got inundated with stories of people who had been targeted by stop-and-frisk and racial profiling.

But what's even more mystifying in the case of the Maryland cops is that they announced this a week in advance — giving critics a head start on using the hashtag. And the critics have taken full advantage of it:

UPDATE: This article has been updated to include the Prince George's Police Department blog post attempting to clarify the purpose of the sting.

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