Shortly after an 18-year-old went on a rampage in a lecture hall at Heidelberg University, a lot of information was circulating on the internet. But many were misleading: fake photos, unfounded information.

False leads, manipulated photos

Conflicting information on several crime scenes or several perpetrators could, for example, make the work of the police considerably more difficult and, in the worst case, result in the destitution of several hundred emergency services. According to Jarolimek, “homemade photos” meant to give a clue to the author are not uncommon. It is therefore particularly important to carefully check whether the information comes from reliable sources. From the experience of previous cases, it can sometimes be concluded that certain information is not trustworthy.

The police academy now offers its own training for “Social Media Managers”, which also includes crisis communication. On the one hand, it is important to deal well and quickly with the many tips from the population. Here, the police have now learned that enough personnel must be provided for this task, says Jarolimek. Because especially in the first hours, during or after a dramatic event, the police receive “a mass of requests for information and tips”.

Professional crisis communication

On the other hand, early and professional external communication is extremely important. In a crisis, the police should signal from the start that they are offering serious information about the situation on their own social media channels, so that there is no room for rumours, says Jarolimek. If rumors surface, the best way to dispel them is for the police to correct them immediately on their official government account.

From Jarolimek’s perspective, however, social media also offers opportunities for police work. Used wisely, they are a valuable tool to “quickly and directly inform the population and also give advice on how to react to the situation” – which can ultimately help to defuse a dangerous situation.