Mirko Tobias Schäfer / Assistant Professor
University of Utrecht Department for Media and Culture Studies

Studying the Use of Social Media in    
Public Management and Police in    

Social Media Use in Public Management and Police

Social media are increasingly popular means for social interaction, sharing information and point of views. Among their users are also politicians, public institutions and corporations expanding their ways of communication through using social media. But social media also generate an enormous amount of data simply through their users’ interaction with the platform. These data can be used for market research, criminal investigation and surveillance alike. Police forces in Europe use social media not only for interacting with the public but also for criminal investigation and monitoring groups or individuals (Denef et al. 2012). State departments and municipalities make use of the possibilities to interact with the general public and engaged citizens, but they also use the information gathered from social media metrics for operational purposes. The diffusion of social media practices is different in the various regions and member states of the EU. This project investigates the current state of social media use in public management and police in Nordrhein-Westfalen.

This project consists of expert interviews with various stakeholders and practitioners in Nordrhein-Westfalen and comparatively evaluates the practices on the two sides of the border between the Netherlands and Germany.


Platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook or YouTube, were initially developed to capitalize on targeted advertising and user data analysis. Deeply intertwined with traditional media and the so-called blogosphere, social media constitute a new arena for political debate. The public sphere now effectively extends through networked media: new layers of social interaction and novel forms of civic participation, political campaign and debate, new distribution channels and new means of communication. Increasingly these audiences are recognized by government bodies. Most importantly, these platforms record every click users make, every comment users post, their every interaction. This 'datafication' constitutes a data layer, a quickly growing repository of all comments, posts and social interactions within social media, providing an unprecedented analytical basis for polling, campaigning, editing and governing.

Current data practices are visible in two areas: the public sphere, where audiences follow debates and distribute messages and exchange information and the administrative processes in public administration. In the first area, social media are active in generating data and brokering attention and audiences.
All state departments in the Netherlands have implemented social media metrics applications into their PR and communication processes. Netherlands National Police routinely screens social media for criminal investigation and also uses the platforms for developing co-policing, soliciting information and promoting their everyday activities (Meijer 2013). The transformation of traditional processes due to the availability of data is obvious: additional staff is screening social media and analysing the conversations and audiences; practices are changing due to information available from these sources; and most importantly algorithms are developed to support the time consuming process of interpreting online conversations.

Datafication of public sphere

Public administrations are increasingly reaching out to the large audiences on social media platforms and finding ways of integrating these media technologies into practices of citizen participation (e.g. Escher 2011; Coleman, Shane 2012). More than two thirds of Dutch municipalities use social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to communicate with their citizens. All state departments in the Netherlands have systematically implemented social media monitoring activities into their public relations and communication activities. Most members of parliament actively comment on political issues through their Twitter accounts and engage in conversations with the public (Schäfer, Overheul, Boeschoten 2012). The use of social media for campaigning became most prominently visible through Obama's successful election campaign (Kreiss 2012). There is also research that covers the adoption of social media by police forces (Meijer et al. 2013; Deneff et al. 2012). This trend indicates that scholars should not argue about whether social media are meeting the normative criteria of Habermas' understanding of public sphere or not, but should pay attention to the fact that powerful actors already act upon the understanding that social media are part of the public sphere. But it also affects our general understanding of what is public and what is private, what is public space and what is it equivalent in a networked media sphere? This fellowship investigates to what extent data-driven practices, social media monitoring and communication through social media channels established or in development. It questions how these practices affect policy making, and organisational processes within public administration and police.


Coleman, Stephen and Peter Shane (2012) Connecting Democracy. Online Consultation and the Flow of Political Communication, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.
Denef, Sebastian; Nico Kaptein, Petra S. Bayerl and Leonardo Ramirez (2012) Best Practice in Police Social Media Adaptation, COMPOSITE Project, online: <http://www.fit.fraunhofer.de/content/dam/fit/de/documents/COMPOSITE-social-media-best-practice.pdf>
Escher, Tobias (2011) WriteToThem.com: Analysis of Users and Usage for UK Citizens Online Democracy. London: mySociety / UK Citizens Online Democracy, online: <http://www.mysociety.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/WriteToThem_research_report-2011-Tobias-Escher.pdf>
Habermas, Jürgen (1990 [1962]) Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit. Suhrkamp: Frankfurt am Main.
--- (1991) The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society. MIT     Press, Cambridge, MA.
Kreiss, Daniel (2012) Taking Our Country Back: The Crafting of Networked Politics from Howard Dean to Barack     Obama. Oxford University Press, New York, Oxford.
Meijer, Albert ed. (2013) Politie en sociale media. Politie & Wetenschap, Apeldoorn.

Date April 2016 Category News

As a Meractor Research Fellow at the NRW School of Governance at University of Duisburg-Essen I am investigating social media use in public management and police in Nordrhein-Westfalen (NRW). With this research fellowship, I want to investigate exploratively the state of 'datafication' in NRW. Expert interviews with decision makers and practcioners from government bodies and the police shall provide insight into the process of implementing social media metrics and algorithmic processes into the various activities from communicating policies to monitoring publics and intervening in case of emergencies. The insights gained will be relevant in order to understand the transformation of our understanding of public sphere and democracy.

2000 - 2017 Mirko Tobias Schäfer

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