New Delhi: The Uttar Pradesh (UP) police over the past one year has transformed its Twitter handles from a public relations platform to a public grievance redressal tool. With 122 verified live handles, UP police is aiming to foster engagement with a population of 200 million in a state that is 243,290 sq. km in size. The social media platform is supposed to increase public involvement and deliver speedy justice in a transparent manner by making it easier for people to register First Information Report (FIR), for instance.

Use of Twitter and other social media such as Facebook by UP police is enhanced further by ‘Twitter Seva’—a platform/dashboard developed specially for UP police by Twitter to monitor, record and follow up on tweets tagged with UP police’s twitter handle—@Uppolice.

UP Twitter Seva was among the winners in the public relations category of Social Media for Empowerment awards (SM4E), held by Digital Empowerment Foundation annually. Rahul Srivastava, additional superintendent of police (addl. SP) and public relations officer to director general of police (DGP), said over the phone that this use of Twitter goes beyond promoting the good work of the police. Launched in 2016, UP police’s Twitter use is aimed at enabling it to “strengthen its relationship with the citizens by providing fast, efficient and real-time public service", he said adding “social media platforms have been chosen because of ease of use, interactiveness and transparency."

In early May 2017, UP police Twitter Seva had recorded 53,373 tweets of which 53,103 have been ‘closed’, meaning complaints have been addressed. Another 85 complaints were in process of being resolved and 184 tweets were ‘open’. Similar services are being used by the ministries of railways, external affairs, telecom, corporate affairs, the telecom industry and even Bengaluru police. But the scale and reach in UP surpass all others.

Tweeted complaints are recorded on a centralized dashboard and a docket number is allotted to each complaint which is forwarded to the concerned district police for resolution. The docket number is used to keep a tab on the status of the complaint, which is ‘open’ when the case is unresolved, ‘in process’ when the police responds and begins inquiry, and ‘closed’ when an FIR is lodged, the various statuses indicated by a colour code.

UP Police Twitter Seva’s verified Twitter handles, where people can freely lodge complaints include the office of DGP Headquarters, every district, range, zone office of UP police, directorate of traffic police Lucknow, as well as separate handles of SPs (traffic) of 16 key districts in the state.

One challenge, however, arises from the low internet penetration in UP, according to Srivastava. He said the police is partnering with different grassroots initiatives to conduct workshops for the general public and spread awareness about the use of social media. “Currently, Twitter and social media use is largely restricted to the urban middle-class… but we are seeing a steady rise in other sections of society as well," he said.

Additionally, it is also having to educate its own force on the use of Twitter and the process of addressing complaints via social media. Since December 2016, a weeklong workshop has been held in 25 districts and 122 social media cells have been established. Each media cell comprises two-four police personnel, who are supposed to monitor and follow up tweets, and ensure they are addressed promptly. As per the DGP office approximately 500 police personnel are part of the Twitter initiative.

Another issue, related to the size of UP, is that the police personnel working on these platforms are finding it a challenge to weed out frivolous tweets. “The volume of tweets is very high and not all tweets are actionable for the cops," Srivastava said. “There are fake handles and misuse of cyberspace because of the anonymity available in the online world, so we try to ensure that the twitter handle/ account are authentic before setting out on investigation or action on any tweet received."

To address this growing concern of frivolous tweets and low know-how on use of social media for official purposes, UP police is planning a digital volunteers program.

 Mint has a strategic partnership with Digital Empowerment Foundation, which hosts the Manthan and mBillionth awards.

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