Cops turn to social media and humour to get their word across

Topics Social Media

(Clockwise from left) Mumbai Police campaigns on Twitter against fake news and for Women’s Day, the Bengaluru police campaign for public transport
A few weeks ago, a strange sight greeted people in Gurugram. Two gentlemen strode its busy streets asking people to drive by the rules or else watch their lives dissipate in smoke, swaggering along and dressed in attire that seemed like a throwback to the 1970s. For those old enough to know, the two were cloning famous on-screen dacoit Gabbar Singh and his sidekick Samba from the hit film Sholay; for the rest, they were just people in fancy dress costumes asking people to follow traffic rules.

While the Gurugram Police took to the streets to get their message across, the police in Mumbai (4.68 million followers), Bengaluru (555,124) and New Delhi (264,000) have been active on Twitter, picking up popular themes, memes and characters to deliver their message in a funny and humane tone. Humour works, as does the persistent use of social media, say the cops who are busy learning the new rules of the game. 

“The response to our Gabbar-Samba campaign was extremely positive. Our purpose was served. We knew if we had to make the people understand, it has to be through a unique and quirky way,” says Himanshu Garg, DCP, Gurugram Traffic. He adds that the department is looking at more such initiatives.

The Mumbai Traffic Police department is among the oldest hands on social media. Their one-liners are often in tune with popular urban sentiment, typically drawing upon the events unfolding in the city. On women’s day for instance their handle (@MumbaiPolice) tweaked the popular saying ‘Behind every successful man is a woman’ to say ‘At par with every successful man is a woman’. After the huge box office success of Gully Boy, it wrote: Everytime someone shares a fake news, Bhag bhag bhag, aaya share aaya share (#MCDon’tShare). The line used a character (M C Sher) and lines from a song from the film  to drive home the message.

N Chandramouli, founder, Trust Research Advisory sees this as a trust building effort on the part of the cops who are often the first respondents to any form of tragedy on the streets and people’s homes. “There is a loss of connection with the people because of the latter’s fear of the police,” he adds. Sandeep Goyal, chairman, Mogae Media also sees this as an attempt to ‘talk with’ rather than ‘talk to’ the citizens. “A well run social media handle (like the one of CP Mumbai) ‘humanises’ the interaction between the people and the force," he adds. 

While the police have shown remarkable wit and alacrity on social media, some centres are hamstrung by an inherently bureaucratic approach. Also given that these are usually initiatives led from the top (usually the Commissioner’s office), a lot depends on the men or women in charge. For instance, the Bengaluru Police put together a good team for their social media handle but that was disbanded when the commissioner was transferred. “You have to make such efforts sustainable,” says Chandramouli.

Social media is no longer a matter of choice, says Goyal. “From the Prime Minister to all of Bollywood to most cricketers, everyone is on social media. So, the police have no choice but to be there. It is just a question of whether that presence is merely to tick the box or the presence is one that is noted and appreciated,” he adds. The Mumbai Police have been quick to adapt to the medium, be it using witty one-liners or responding quickly to mishaps and road accidents or uploading stories of their successes. But will these lead to a stronger bond between the police and the people? Now that is a question none wants to answer.

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