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Originally published August 18, 2014 at 4:51 PM | Page modified August 19, 2014 at 4:27 PM

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Editorial: Law enforcement's Tweet Smart campaign on Twitter is hard to enforce

Some Washington police want members of the public to refrain from tweeting pictures and information from active crime scenes while officers are trying to restore law and order. It’s a big ask, not likely to be answered.

Seattle Times Editorial

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Sorry law enforcement. This is a poor request. I can see many people saved by a tweet warning that dangerous activity... MORE
I can understand why law enforcement would want the public to refrain from gathering and distributing information... MORE


CONVINCING the public to hold off tweeting from live crime scenes is reasonable, suspicious, and highly unlikely.

Last month, nine Washington state law-enforcement agencies, including the Seattle Police Department and the State Patrol, started the “tweet Smart” campaign to curb the widely proliferating behavior of people posting information from active crime scenes on social media.

Law-enforcement officials warn that such real-time detail distribution can put officers and public safety in jeopardy.

The argument has credence. Information posted on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram about an ongoing manhunt can just as easily be seen by a vigilant, tech-savvy suspect as the general public.

It might be a stretch for fleeing desperados to monitor their Twitter feeds, but it could help the hunted slip out a back window after seeing a tweet about hunters targeting the front door.

However, law enforcement’s request for momentary restraint runs up against an American value and a reality: Free speech should usually trump public impediment of police activities, and getting a wired populace to refrain from tweeting when and what it wants is next to impossible.

Still, the power of new media requires a corresponding dose of responsibility to adjust to the new cyberscape.

For the public, that means thinking before tweeting, while also considering the veracity of social-media reporting.

And for law enforcement, that means finding unobtrusive ways to “protect and serve” under a non-blinking, tech-amped microscope.

State Patrol officials already realize this, and instruct cadets to behave as if their on-duty actions are constantly recorded by mobile devices.

Regrettably, that degree of scrutiny remains warranted. The police shooting of an unarmed teen near St. Louis on Aug. 9, the subsequent discord, and police attempts to inhibit any recording of their riot-response conduct are testament to that unfortunate truth.

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with police asking for an improbable change in public behavior, they should ask for no more.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Jonathan Martin, Erik Smith, Thanh Tan, Robert J. Vickers, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).

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