The explosion of social networking websites has been a growing phenomenon since the turn of the millennium. While some consider these sites to cater only to the self-absorbed and/or the overly sharing types, the fever seems to be catching on. According to a recent CNN article, the newest additions to the micro-blogging trend are various police departments around the nation. According to the article, police officers from Florida to Georgia to Iowa are using the social networking site Twitter to “disseminate information to the public,” with the intent to keep citizens up to date on police alerts, bulletins, and any other important pieces of information (that will fit in a 140-character message). Examples of such messages range from suspect descriptions to “courageous citizen” award notifications.

Obviously, instantaneous access to life-saving information sounds like a complete, grade-A winner. This has been a somewhat surprising, but welcome, use of the system. While I don’t want this to turn into a diatribe on social networking/blogging (it seems that everyone is climbing onto the social networking bandwagon these days), the possibility of information overload seems more real than ever. I can only imagine the day when an “important” police-issued notification on my cellphone could mean either, “The building’s on fire,” or “Let’s thank Patty for the delicious cupcakes,” or “Today’s lunch specials.”

Police checking recent tweet: Sloppy Joes today, huh? Niiiice.

Police checking recent tweet: "Sloppy Joe's today, huh? Niiiice."

More than likely, there will be some restrictions placed on “acceptable” police tweets, but as of now no limits seem to exist. As far as I’m concerned, the last thing I need to know is what an entire police department is having for lunch. And then there’s always the possibility of those charged with protecting and serving falling prey to social networking’s well-documented distractions. While Twitter is a fairly new phenomenon, just how useful it will be to police departments nationwide has yet to be determined.

– Rylan Smith

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