It hasn’t been a great few weeks for social media companies like Facebook and Twitter.
But in spite of all the undeniable problems associated with fake news, it’s worth reminding ourselves of the equally undeniable civic value of social media.
Take, for example, the role of social media in the response in Houston to Hurricane Harvey. According to Art Acevedo, Houston’s Chief of Police, social media tools like Twitter, Nextdoor, Periscope and Facebook became a “de facto 9111 system” during the crisis — playing a “huge role” in his department’s response to Harvey and certainly saving lives during the late August deluge.
Yes, Acevedo acknowledges, the criticism about social media as a tool for spreading hate is “well placed”. That said, however, Houston’s police chief — who boasts of having over 42,000 Twitter followers — believes that social media platforms have become a “huge part of crime fighting” and is now his department’s greatest “force-multiplier”.
Indeed, he would like to see new applications which are able to “geocode” people’s smartphones so that they can receive crime scene alerts and establish other crowdsourced ways of preventing and solving crimes. Above all, Acevedo argues, social media can create the kind of familiarity between police and citizens which “breeds trust” – the essence of a healthy civic ecosystem.
Acevedo — who was born and bred in southern California — believes that Texas, and particularly Houston, offers innovators a very attractive alternative to Silicon Valley. With its absence of state income tax and its great food and cultural resources, Acevedo insists that Houston is “the most under appreciated city in the United States.”