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American Review of Canadian Studies
ISSN: 0272-2011 (Print) 1943-9954 (Online) Journal homepage:
Policing and social media: social control in an era
of new media
Alexandre Turgeon
To cite this article: Alexandre Turgeon (2017): Policing and social media: social control in an era
of new media, American Review of Canadian Studies, DOI: 10.1080/02722011.2017.1392063
To link to this article:
Published online: 27 Oct 2017.
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Date: 28 October 2017, At: 03:02
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Policing and Social Media: Social Control in an Era of New Media, by
Christopher J. Schneider, London, Lexington Books, 2016, 159 pp., $80.00 (cloth),
ISBN 978-1-4985-3371-3
In the spring of 2012, thousands of Québec students went on strike when the provincial
government announced it was planning to raise tuition fees. From February to August of
that year, the social movement known as the “Maple Spring” (a clear reference to the “Arab
Spring”) took place not only in the streets of Montreal and Québec City, but also on social
media. Organizing on social media through hashtags such as #manifencours (“ongoing protest”), #ggi (“general unlimited strike”), and #polqc (“Québec politics”), students, protesters, and
their allies were quick to organize. They challenged the authorities and their discourse, and
planned marches and protests. Most of the time they did so without giving any notice
whatsoever to the Montreal Police Department (MPD). For anyone who followed the events
of the Maple Spring, especially on social media and Twitter, in particular, one could not help
but notice the activities of the MPD’s official Twitter account during this time. Whether to open
a channel of communication with citizens and protesters, convey official orders and information, or simply answer questions, this account was one of the most active—and one of the
most challenged—during the Maple Spring. It showed that police institutions have embraced
the realities of social media. To what effect, though?
Christopher J. Schneider studies this phenomenon in this book Policing and Social Media:
Social Control in an Era of New Media. An associate professor of sociology at Brandon
University, Schneider has published many works on topics such as social control, information,
and new technologies. In this book, he seeks to uncover how the social media has transformed the way policing institutions conduct themselves, on- and off-social media. Focusing
on Canada, Schneider analyzes three events and their relationship to social media: the 2011
Vancouver riot on Facebook, the Maple Spring protests on Twitter, and the death of Sammy
Yatim on July 27, 2013, on YouTube.
Central to this study is the concept of “media logic,” defined by David L. Altheide and
Robert P. Snow as “the process through which media present and transmit information” (1).
Police institutions were, for quite a long time, the ones in charge of controlling the narratives
regarding crimes and social control as they were the ones to give pertinent information to
the media. They also positioned themselves as the ones with the legitimacy to do so.
However, times are changing quickly. With the proliferation of social media, police institutions have lost their monopoly to control these narratives, and are bound, more often than
not, to negotiate the very meaning of what has unfolded. According to Schneider, not only
have the police started to adapt to these new realities, he argues “that social media alter
institutional police practices [in a way that is] a contemporary application of media logic” (24).
The first two chapters of this book are devoted to the first forays police agencies have
made into social media. Schneider focuses on the case of MySpace, where cyber predators
targeting under-aged users made headlines. As these stories gained national coverage, calls
for police involvement to solve these cases became more frequent, putting police agencies in
the spotlight, before the emergence of Facebook and Twitter.
Building from this, Schneider looks at the 2011 Vancouver riot which started (just like the 1994
Vancouver riot) after the Vancouver Canucks suffered a crushing defeat at home in game seven
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of the Stanley Cup Finals. This comparison between the 1994 and 2011 events is quite helpful:
both riots occurred in the same city, they followed a sports event, and involved large numbers of
people. But the similarities stop there. Whereas the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) had
been able to control the narratives in 1994 and feed the media with their own information, social
media disrupted and challenged these narratives in 2011. This was such a pivotal turning point
that the latter event it was called the “first North American social media sports riot” (7) by the VPD
which was caught off guard by the backlash against that police force on Facebook. Schneider
then turns his attention to the efforts by the Toronto Police Service—the largest police force in
Canada—to ensure an official and efficient presence on Twitter, in response to the aftermath of
the 2011 Vancouver riot.
Chapter 4 focuses on community policing and police professionalism through social
media, focusing on both the importance of connecting with citizens with police, and for
both on-duty and off-duty police officers to maintain a certain decorum on social media.
Analyzing more than 100,000 tweets from official police accounts, Schneider shows how this
process has taken place over time: social media officers were hired by various police
departments, online guides for police agents were produced, and various adjustments
were made for police forces to maintain an online presence.
Last but not least, Chapter 5 examines the death of Sammy Yatim who died by police
gunfire on July 27, 2013. He examines how this tragic event was framed on YouTube by firsthand witnesses who uploaded content, and by users who commented on the feed. This
chapter clearly shows the inability of police institutions to maintain control of narratives in
this new era of social media.
In light of the many high-profile and recent police shootings in the United States, and the
way they were framed on YouTube and other social media sites, this book is a significant
contribution on the field of policing and information. That being said, the analysis is, at times,
rudimentary. In Chapter 4, to analyze a corpus of 105,801 tweets, Schneider explains that he
combined these “into a single 7,498-page PDF document” (81). To choose such an avenue is
quite surprising, considering there are more effective ways of collecting and archiving Twitter
data on a large scale, like Twarc, which would have allowed the author to take the metadata
of these tweets into consideration. Coming from a book focusing on social media, one would
have expected more sophisticated and efficient methods than these. Nevertheless, this book
will be of interest to academics—and people from within police institutions—looking to
learn more on social control in an era of new media.
Alexandre Turgeon
Department of History, Bridgewater State University, Bridgewater, MA, USA
© 2017 Alexandre Turgeon
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