Yesterday I engaged with a horrendously vile blogger who passes himself off as a “British Investigative Journalist” whilst posting his homophobic, sexist, discriminatory and hurtful rhetoric. He had the gall to state that today, the 1 year anniversary of the awful murders of PC Bone & PC Hughes, was a good day to talk about how women do not belong in the Police. This vile “man” who believes himself to be a Journalist whilst he comes across as nothing more than a fanatical, obsessive troll cared not about who he upset and when questioned or held to account became abusive, aggressive and very defensive indeed. I refuse to name the troll because he does not deserve the attention he so badly craves. However, one thing he said in his narcissistic rage fuelled tweets got me thinking.
He stated to several Police tweeters including myself that our opinions held little or no credence and that we were cowards because we tweet incognito. We do not portray our own face on our twitter account. We do not use our actual names. We do not publicly identify ourselves and choose the veil of anonymity in order to engage with our followers on Twitter and enjoy social media. According to him this therefore entitles us to no opinion and marks us as cowards. He even questioned whether I was really a Cop and asked why I do not offer my name, collar number and my face. Sadly he is not alone in his view. many others agree with him and believe that members of any profession who tweet incognito are either corrupt, unprofessional, whistleblowers or up to no good. It has made me think “Why do I and others choose to blog incognito and does it take away our credibility?”
My quick conclusion – No it does not. My synopsis is below. Some points relate solely to myself and the role of Police Officer and others to anon tweeting in general.
Lets look first at Twitter and Social Media in general. Whilst it has many uses and functions most people use it to “meet” new people, engage in discussions and conversations and basically just to socialise. I think of Twitter as an alcohol free pub, or a social club. Somewhere I go, in my personal time to socialise. Some people use it for business purposes, some people use it for OFFICIAL Police or other professional purposes. Most, including myself, simply use it to socialise with other like minded people and I have met some lovely and interesting people and made some good friends along the way too.
Nowhere on my profile do I state I am a Police Officer. I suppose it could be assumed by the fact I have the letters “PC” at the end of my twitter name (@CanisLupusPC) or by the content and subject matter of some of my tweets or those I engage with most, but I do not state my profession on my public bio. Those who know me and engage with me most know what I do and know I am genuine. A select trusted few know my true identity and have my contact details. However, I made the conscious decision to tweet incognito for a few reasons.
Firstly, because it is my right to do so if I wish. My account is not an “Official” account linked to any profession, it is MY personal account for social purposes. How I choose to present myself in my own time is nobody else’s business or concern so long as I am breaking no laws. Lets for a second think of Twitter as a pub or social club, in fact ANY social environment where we may engage with other people. When I am socially engaging with people in “real life” do I have to introduce myself as Police Officer? No I do not. If I am engaged in a discussion or debate or even disagreeing with another persons point of view whether it be Police based or not, do I have to provide that person with my profession, name, collar number, force or any other information? No I do not. At no point in my personal life, when socialising or engaging with any number of people, do I have to identify myself in any way shape or form. The ONLY time I am legally bound to do so is when acting in my capacity as a Police Officer and even then all I have to provide is my rank, collar number and my force. So long as I am not committing offences, being racist, sexist, homophobic or discriminatory in any way then I can operate under any persona I see fit. If I want to wear a dress and wig and call myself Patricia in my own time (just for example obviously!) then it has sweet FA to do with anybody else.
Most people where I live know me and know what I do for a living, however, I very rarely tell anybody what I do for a living and I have in the past when I have been in less desirable locations or amongst less desirable folk, if asked what I do for a living, told them I am either “looking for work” or fall back on past professions (I never make it up cause you can be made to look very stupid if caught out. Stick to what you know). The reasons for either not identifying myself or for lying about my profession in these real life social scenarios is because sometimes, believe it or not, certain people can be malicious towards Police Officers. I have known friends and colleagues be seriously injured on nights out for being recognised or revealing they’re Police Officers. One friend was attacked on his way home from the pub after during an apparent civil conversation in a pub with a stranger he revealed that he was a Police Officer. The male didn’t bat an eyelid and just continued to talk to my mate before shaking his hand and leaving the pub. An hour later my friend was walking home when he was attacked by the same male who called him a “dirty pig bastard”. Turns out the male had recently been released from prison and hated Police and so chose to take revenge. Another friend was criticised when he was sitting off duty in his local indian restaurant where the locals and staff knew he was an Inspector. A rowdy group of 8 rugby players were causing a problem and wouldn’t leave and so the manager turned to my friend and identified him to the lads as a Police Officer and expected him to magically evict around 120+ stone of drunken muscle. Instead, what he did was call the Police and observe the simple public order offence to record in his statement later if needed but because he did not take physical action, on his own in front of his wife, he was complained about by the manager who believed he had neglected his duty as a Police Officer. You see, once people know what you do and who you are then there are those in society who like to hurt you one way or another and in some of the roles in which I have worked, a degree of anonymity in my personal life keeps me and my family safe.
The same applies to Twitter. There are numerous anti-police trolls, some of which call themselves Journalists because they may have written a few blogs or contributed to a publication or two. People who spend every waking hour trying to catch Police Officers out or cause them problems either at home or at work and every sleeping hour dreaming of ways to troll. Anybody who has ever had a Twitter account will, I am sure, have experienced a troll or bully. They come in many forms. Some use their real name and photograph and believe that what they do and say is reasonable, legal, justified and professional because they do not hide behind anonymity and they genuinely believe themselves to be Journalists. Others use anonymous accounts and pseudonyms or even operate numerous accounts at the same time in order to spread their misery and hate fuelled lies. They choose the veil of anonymity for criminal and libellous purposes. Because trolls operate incognito to cause misery they then tend to state via either “real” accounts or apparent real accounts that anonymous Police tweeters (or other professions) are actually false or trolls themselves. This usually happens when somebody from that profession using a pseudonym defends themselves or others and shows the troll for what they really are. This is not the case. Tweeting anonymously does NOT make you any less credible or unprofessional.
I used to tweet in my own name and have my own hideous mug as my profile picture. However, I quickly realised two things. Firstly, that when these strange people knew who I was and what I did they had a target and literally stalked me. They searched for me on Facebook and added me. They then added my family and friends. Some even located where I lived and worked by trawling google. No harm done by these people but it is a little odd and sinister. I was however also targeted by trolls who did all the above but with threats and also made allegations about me to my bosses and the Police. One fool even said they’d reported me to the IPCC for “unprofessional behaviour” when I referred to Raul Moat as a “bastard” in a tweet. You see, because people knew what I did for a living they sat and waited or even tried to lure me into expressing an opinion or waited for me to swear or do something they considered “wrong” for a Police Officer. I have heard of trolls posing as women and using the age old “honey trap” trick to ruin lives, not just for Police Officers but other professions too. It meant that in every single twitter discussion or debate I was unable to be myself or speak freely because the moment I did, the vultures attacked. I became paranoid and therefor left twitter and never returned for some time.
A while later a friend of mine who recently closed down his anon twitter account and blogs, told me who he was on Twitter. He had been operating incognito under his pseudonym for a while and blogging about Policing issues, something that is fraught with danger and risk these days and attracts attention from all the wrong people who try to silence truth sayers and whistleblowers. Because of unwanted attention and threats to expose him he decided to “vanish” sadly. He resigned a few weeks ago and I am hoping he returns at some point. Anyway, i digress. I asked him how I become anonymous on Twitter. He immediately advised against it if I was planning to be a “Police Blogger” but when I explained that it was for my own personal, social reasons and the problems I had encountered he helped me change my account to what it is now and introduced me to one or two trusted tweeters.
I now tweet and blog under the pseudonym “Snapper”. Whilst it does not prevent trolls and other weird individuals it does mean that they have nothing other than Twitter in order to attack me. They can not target my family. They can not target my work. They can not target anything other than my twitter account and thankfully Twitter has a block button to push the trolls back under the bridge from which they crawled out of. So that is one reason for anonymity on twitter. Pest control.
Another reason being that sadly, in my profession, you are forbidden from speaking freely about the affect of Police cuts, crime figures or really, anything else that although true, the powers that be feel could be detrimental to the force’s reputation or undermine public confidence. We are not free to express an opinion on anything or engage freely in debate or argument because as I have stated above, people complain about you when you do not agree with their point of view. You have to remain 110% professional at all times. This means that any slip up such as swearing or being sarcastic or even if the way in which you tweet gets taken out of context and is considered rude or unprofessional, you can land in very hot water. You can not relax and can not socialise freely and must ALWAYS be on guard. Police Officers are human too. We have feelings. We have opinions. We get upset. We get angry and just like everybody else, sometimes we can’t be arsed with idiots giving us crap or with being polite to vile narcissists with a superiority complex like the one mentioned at the start of this blog and so sometimes the ability to be able to tell people, politely, to “jog on” without fear of being bollocked at work or harassed at home is a much needed thing. Police work ruins your social life and so social media is something many Officers use to relax, chat and vent off. I have my own opinions and thoughts on policing, politics, justice etc but I would not be able to publicly discuss these things if I was to use my true identity and so by tweeting incognito and covering up my ID, except to a select few, I am a little more free to speak. It allows me to be myself without fear of reprisals. I blog about VERY personal stuff such as my depression. Those closest to me know who I am and those that don’t but are still close, such as family, would be able to work it out from reading my blogs. However, it would be a damn site harder for me to be so open and honest about my feelings if I was tweeting and blogging in my own name and using my own face.
Freedom of speech is not a luxury afforded to the public sector, especially the Police. We either choose to be anonymous or silent.
Of course there are those who tweet anonymously without any link to a profession or fear of being bollocked by bosses at all. They do so because they simply want to chat, have a laugh, meet new people online but do not want everybody to know who they are. It adds a level of control over who you allow to get close to you, who you reveal your most personal details to and who you can trust. I know a few and have heard from many more, police and otherwise, who have been forced to either close accounts or “go dark” and tweet incognito due to trolls.
Others may remain anonymous to protect others. For example, if I was to resign from the Police I would still keep my anonymity because to reveal my true identity could well reveal the identity of some friends and colleagues whom I engage with on twitter.
Anonymity gives a person a safety net on many levels. If used for illegal purposes then you can expect to face the consequences. If used to expose internal failings, corruption or mismanagement then I highly commend those people but again it is fraught with danger as truth sayers are often hunted down and silenced. I do believe that when “blowing the whistle” it is more credible if it is done without anonymity. People are more inclined to believe what you say if you’re not hiding behind a veil. However, I also understand why people don’t. It is not about being brave enough it is about self preservation, safety and survival. We only need to look at the shameful way in which James Patrick, a man I respect more than most, has been dragged through hell for publicly speaking out against cuts, to see how risky it can be. If anonymity is simply used by Police Officers or anybody else in order to have some normality and relax in the ever popular world of Twitter and social media then that is no bad thing. It is not dishonest, it is not unprofessional, it is not criminal. It is simply frowned upon by the powers that be and detested by trolls who like to cause misery and pain and get frustrated when they don’t know who you are.
I have often considered posting a picture of myself but I quite like my wolf self now. I often think as well, if I used a photo of any real person I found from the net and used a false real name then how would these fools know any different and how would that add credibility? I could also obviously deny I am a Police Officer or tell people who doubt me that they’re correct but then that would mean I would struggle to engage or contribute freely with Police related discussions or debates and it would soon become apparent that I was lying, so for now, I remain anonymous.
“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person, give him a mask and he shall speak the truth” – Oscar Wilde
Courtesy of Snapper at The Thoughts of @CanisLupusPC