Conflict & Justice

New York City's hijacked hashtag launches a global conversation on police brutality

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Credit: Jodi Graphics

The New York Police Department is the perpetrator of the latest social media campaign gone wrong.

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the audio to hear it.)

On Tuesday, the NYPD's Twitter account posted a photo of a man posing with two NYPD police officers. The tweet encouraged others to post similar photos with the hashtag #myNYPD, for a chance to be featured on the department's official Facebook page.

The first negative reply came only an hour and a half later, when a Twitter account associated with the Occupy Los Angeles movement tweeted a photo of the front page of a January edition of the New York Post, showing a man with a bloody face, allegedly beaten by New York police for jaywalking. This led to a flurry of similar images and sarcastic responses. Soon, the hashtag #myNYPD began trending.

By Tuesday night, #myNYPD had overtaken #HappyEarthDay as the top trending hashtag. Twitter users submitted sarcastic tweets about how "helpful" the NYPD were, like "Here the NYPD engages with its community members, changing hearts and minds one baton at a time" and "I'm here for my free bus ride to Pier 57, Officer." The majority of the photos came from clashes between police and Occupy Wall Street protesters in 2011.

As the hashtag gained global attention, similar hashtags began to pop up: #MiPoliciaMexicana in Mexico, #DankePolizei in Germany, and #MyTPS in Toronto. In Greece, the hashtag #myELAS was used to share photos of brutality by Greek police. A similar #MiPolicia hashtag in Spain brought up fresh memories of a similar social media backlash in December, when a video of Spanish police beating up a group of women during a pro-abortion demonstration was posted.

The global trend has begun a social campaign about police abuse worldwide.

Social media campaigns often backfire when they are dictated by official entities. Campaigns of goodwill, like what #myNYPD was seeking, are generated by citizens and gain acceptance by grassroots sharing.

Correction: "ELAS" was incorrectly identified as the Greek People's Liberation Army. It has been changed in the text to reflect that ELAS refers to the Hellenic police force.

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