Guest Post – Nick Keane: Rumours and fears on social media sites

Another guest post from Nick Keane (@NickKeane on Twitter). Nick is the Digital Engagement and Knowledge Business Advisor at the NPIA.

Nick Keane

I’m grateful to colleagues from Staffordshire who have shared the below information about rumours about child abduction which initially surfaced on social media sites. I’ve made small amendments and where relevant have posted links to the relevant social media sites.

The points I would draw out are:

  • The need for the police to be able to respond to both rumours and concerns in the community
  • The use of more than one platform in responding, at various times Facebook, YouTube and Twitter were used

I would argue that in showing that they were responding to the community Staffordshire Police not only increased their followership in the community, but (by the number of “like” uses increased their support within the community.

Suspicious Incidents and Social Media

On Tuesday 5 April we had around 1,480 fans of the main Staffordshire Police Facebook account. It was around this time we posted the initial release about the suspicious incidents to address existing Facebook and Twitter rumours triggered by the OWL (Neighbourhood Watch System) update over the weekend.

At around 21.00 a twitter message was sent to @policingstoke from a member of the community in Stoke-on-Trent concerned about numerous Facebook posts and comments about kidnaps and abductions.

After a quick review took place and an update was posted on Facebook and Twitter to correct the rumours.

On Wednesday evening there were rumours of kidnaps in Chesterton, Wolstanton and Tunstall, all were responded to within minutes to prevent escalation.

During the day on Thursday there was very little activity in relation to the incidents until around 16.45 when an incident occurred in the Abbey Hulton area of Stoke-on-Trent involving the arrest of two men on suspicion of Child Abduction following a new suspicious incident in the Abbey Hulton area.

By 19:30 questions about this were appearing on the Staffordshire Police Facebook page.

The decision was made to confirm the brief details to local media and social media users and posting on Facebook and YouTube

Within 30 minutes over 100 comments had been added to the entry by members of the public – this totalled 171 by Friday afternoon.

On Friday afternoon we updated the media that the two males arrested the previous evening had been bailed and were not involved in child abduction. We filmed a 5 minute video for YouTube to address many of the rumours and speculation. This was posted to the site at around 18:00 hrs and had over 100 views that evening with over 20 comments.

By Monday the view had been viewed 364 times

Fan Numbers

Between 16.00 on Tuesday and 7.00 Wednesday the number of Facebook fans increased from 1,480 to 1,750, an increase of 270 or 18%. 24 hours later our fan base increased to 2,446, that’s 966 new fans an increase of 65%.

By 08.00 Friday 8 April the number of fans of the site had increased to 2,780, that’s 1,557 more that on the 22 March, an increase of over 127%.

By 15:00 Monday the total fans reached 2,961 – that’s an increase of 1,491 or 100.7 % in seven days.


Between 16:00 Tuesday and 7:00 Thursday over 145 comments were made on the suspicious incidents posts on our account. 61 people acknowledged the posts by clicking the ‘Like’ button

By Monday (15:00) the total number of comments made on the child related posts totalled 257.

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