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The NYPD lifted Twitter lessons from about.com

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The police department's 'Twitter class' took tips from the web and advised officers against tweeting 'He's a rapist!'

This has not been a stellar year for the NYPD's public relations department. In April, the official @NYPDnews Twitter account asked followers to tweet a photo of themselves with an officer using the hashtag #myNYPD. Activists soon co-opted the message, using the hashtag to share photos of police using force. That public relations meltdown may have been what prompted the department to set up a "Twitter class" to train officers in the delicate art of social media.

If it helped, the results aren't clear; yesterday's protests against Eric Garner's death prompted a #WeHearYou tweet, which similarly backfired. But through a Freedom of Information request, The Verge obtained documents related to the class — essentially, the NYPD's lesson plan. Some of the information is enlightening, some is strange, and some seems to have been pulled from a Google search for "What is Twitter?"

In a section on best practices for official accounts, officers are told they can release public information on parolees through official feeds, but are cautioned against going overboard:

Do not editorialize.

  • Inappropriate: John Smith was released today on parole. He is now trolling your neighborhood. If you see him, keep your kids away from him. He's a rapist!

  • Appropriate: John Smith, convicted of a rape in the 88 precinct in 2009, was released on parole today.

  • In the same section, the NYPD's social media team takes a strong stance for First Amendment freedoms:

    Tweets = First Amendment Speech

  • Just because it's offensive, doesn't mean you can have it removed.

  • Example: "Officer Smith is a motherf*&ker #DieOfficerSmith"

  • The tweet is offensive but it is not threatening nor does it violate Twitter's terms of use.

  • "motherf*&ker #DieOfficerSmith" would seem, on its face, to be a violent threat that violates Twitter's terms, but maybe not. In either case, an asterisk in this section reminds officers that "only Twitter can remove tweets."

    One apparently anodyne section helpfully defines Twitter for officers, comparing it to instantly texting a group of people and even going so far as to call it "text-talking." The section begins, "Twitter is about sending and receiving group messages. The messages are limited to 140 characters and they are called tweets." It continues:

    Twitter by default publishes all of your tweets in a public timeline that anyone can browse. You can make your tweets private, but that severely limits the usefulness of your Twitter account. If people can't browse your tweets because they're private, fewer people will be able to "follow" you, and Twitter is all about people "following" or text-talking to other people.

    Although this section appears under the header "Deputy Commissioner Public Information," the section is almost identical to an about.com page called "What Is Twitter? A Definition of Twitter." Likewise for the following section in the presentation, which contains definitions for common Twitter terms which also appear on the about.com page "Twitter Language: Terms and Slang Explained."

    The definitions appearing in the presentation and about.com site include three different slang words for Twitter:

    Twitterati -- Twitterati is slang for popular users on Twitter, people who usually have large groups of followers and are well known.

    Twitosphere -- The Twitosphere (sometimes spelled "Twittosphere") is all the people who tweet.

    Twitterverse -- Twitterverse is a mashup of Twitter and universe. It refers to the entire universe of Twitter, including all its users, tweets and cultural conventions.

    Along with other faux pas — "abusive language or comments" and "discriminating or bias information" are banned — guidelines are provided for officers' personal accounts. In short, they say, don't let the world know you're a cop, and don't post photos of anyone else in uniform.

    The key sentence:

    Members of the service are urged not to disclose or allude to their status as a member of the Department.

    You can read the documents in full below: