Despite a growing body of recent literature that has examined the role of the police during the COVID-19 pandemic, little is known about police approaches to citizen-engagement on social media in England. Accordingly, this paper draws on robust qualitative research conducted with police officers and staff across England who utilised either official, semi-official, or unofficial police social media accounts. The paper illustrates how they understood their role on social media during the pandemic, and the opportunities and lessons that can be learned. Above all, officers and staff in the study reported that the police transitioned between three distinct stages on social media during the first year of the pandemic. First, they discussed the need to move police engagement with citizens entirely online when the first lockdown started in March 2020 to maintain contact, albeit under very restricted circumstances. Second, during the initial stages of lockdown, they believed it was important that the police shared content on social media on how to keep safe, although they also acknowledged specific challenges in relation to sharing visual content, details of coronavirus legislation, and government guidance. Third, police participants later reported withdrawing from discussing pandemic-related content on social media, and instead promoting positive and feel-good stories about generic police activity. These findings are significant because they reveal that social media enabled the police to maintain their relationship with citizens during the pandemic, although in doing so the police played less of a role in relation to broadcasting guidance and rules linked to keeping people safe.
- social media
- COVID-19 pandemic