A Maryland police department is about to embark on a strange social media stunt by live-tweeting a prostitution sting next week. A post published on the Prince George’s County Police Department blog on Thursday reads, “We won't tell you when or where, other than it's somewhere in the county sometime next week. The PGPD's Vice Unit will conduct a prostitution sting and we'll tweet it out as it happens. From the ads to the arrests, we'll show you how the PGPD is battling the oldest profession.” As we saw last week with the #myNYPD backlash, police departments and social media are rarely a successful combination.
The post, seemingly written by the world's biggest Cops fan, calls the act of live-tweeting a “progressive… unprecedented social media tactic,” and ensures that suspect photos and information will be tweeted, so you can see, in real time, people getting their lives ruined. According to PGPD, the plan is meant to deter criminal behavior in the county. And in response to critics on Twitter, Julie Parker, media relations director at PGPD, said that the sting will target johns. So why is the post illustrated with a photo of a woman being led away in plastic handcuffs?
Attorneys The Wire spoke with didn't see any problems with the legality of live-tweeting, but did question the moral basis for doing something usually reserved for public break-ups or sports games. Jonathan Mayer at Stanford University’s Center for Internet and Society said in an email, “It is generally lawful for an officer to record an arrest in a public place and disseminate that recording. Whether it's a good idea…” Bradley Shear, an attorney based in Bethesda, Maryland, called it a "legal liability time bomb" for the police department, adding that at least Cops had a filter and pixelated the faces of suspects.
“I’m hoping that they will change their mind. It’s chilling and disgusting and they should really consider the damages to the victims,” Goldberg said.