What happens when the New York Police Department – famous for its racial profiling, Stop and Frisk, spying on Muslims, ripping people’s testicles out and beating up and groping protesters – tries to use Twitter to improve its public relations image? Well, people who have been stop-and-frisked, racially profiled, spied on, beat up and groped post their best images of the aforementioned activities as a reminder that the NYPD is generally a horrible organization.
Last week, the NYPD started tweeting with the hashtag “#myNYPD,” asking its followers to post images and tweets about their experiences dealing with the department. While I’m sure the thugs in blue expected everyone to tweet wonderful stories of kittens being pulled out of trees and little old ladies (who are also on Twitter?) being helped across the street, what actually happened was much funnier, and much more fitting.
Mediaite, Colorlines and Reason all have excellent “best-of” articles that feature amazing tweets from victims of the NYPD, but among the various media coverage on this campaign, one word kept leaping out at me: “failure.” Most news outlets have framed this as a major PR fiasco, treating the stream of pictures and anecdotes detailing police violence as they would a political scandal. I find this framing disingenuous.
As many people on Twitter pointed out: maybe this isn’t a failure of the NYPD at all, but a concerted, ad-hoc countercampaign led by activists to show the truth behind the NYPD’s policies. It’s a deliberate slap in the face to the police – and those who support the police.
This is not the first time Twitter has been used as an activist tool to eliminate the State’s PR spin. As far back as 2009, the microblog service has been used to hold unfiltered documentation of protests and other actions. More recently, directed hashtag campaigns along feminist and race lines have allowed people who are mis- and underrepresented in major media to speak fully and loudly about discrimination they’ve faced. Even last month’s #cancelcolbert campaign – though more than a few disliked that one – is an example of the kind of activism Twitter allows for.
The #myNYPD anti-campaign is not a failure. In fact, it is probably the most acerbic, hilarious and poignant instance of “hashtag activism” to date.