Laughs die down over police on Twitter

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Not everyone is laughing over how the Norwegian state police write humorous messages when reporting their various duties. They’ve been hailed over the years for their creative use of the social media site Twitter, but now some think they’re crossing a line.

“Metro station in Oslo Sentrum,” reported the police in one so-called “tweet” last spring. “A passer-by damaged the violin of a street musician. We can only speculate over the reason.”

Tweets like that, intended to lighten up the heavy business of being a cop on the beat, have become a hallmark of the state police. The humourous tweeting started in shortly after Twitter was taken into use. It quickly spread all over the country and even inspired a book where various tweets were collected for the public’s reading pleasure. The police have also won awards for clear communication with the local population where they work.

Now state broadcaster NRK reports that the state police directorate feels a need to impose some national guidelines for all the tweeting, after some complaints that the humour can come at the expense of those involved. One tweet issued by the operations center for police in Haugesund created a stir just last week:

“If your household help doesn’t show up at your home this week, she may have been sent home herself. A foreign woman was deported for violating immigration law.”

That raised concerns of stereotyping and sexism. Police in Haugesund told NRK said they didn’t mean to embarrass the woman, but rather chide local residents who use black-market labour and exploit the foreigners who often feel compelled to offer it. Police deleted the tweet when they realized it had been “misunderstood,” and admitted they should have apologized and clarified their intention.

In another case in Alta, Northern Norway, police were scolded for treating a case of partner abuse too lightly. First they’d reported that a couple had quarreled at a hotel in Alta, leaving one of them with a facial injury: “It ended with them spending the night at different hotels. It’s not always easy with romance.”

“We’re urging more thoughtfulness when using humour and sarcasm,” Margrete Halvorsen, communications director for the Police Directorate, told NRK. “That’s because we see that some Twitter reports from the police are unfortunate and spark arguments, and we need to be careful about that.”

She said some proposals for new rules will soon be sent out for hearings, but stressed that police will still use Twitter as a main channel to communicate the police’s dealings with the public. Berglund