Police Tweets and Public Perceptions of Safety and Police Performance: An Experiment on Framing and Other Tweet Content

Imke Smulders, W.P.M.S Spooren, E.W. Kolthoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The introduction of new media as a means of communication by the police triggers interesting questions about the impact of such new developments, such as the effect on people’s safety perceptions. Since communication is mostly overlooked as a possible determinant of safety perception, this led to a research project into the relationship between Twitter use by community policing officers and citizen’s perceptions of safety. This article reports on a part of this study, an experiment on framing and other linguistic effects of tweets by police officers. To assess the aforementioned relationship, it is important to examine how the precise content of a community policing officer’s tweet is perceived by the public.

In an experimental setting the effects of gain versus loss frames, implicit versus explicit advice and style of addressing have been tested, with regard to safety perceptions and several related factors. The results show that gain framed tweets yield significantly more positive responses concerning opinion about police performance, perceived risk of burglary or assault, safety perception and marginally for perceived crime level in the neighbourhood. Including an explicitly or implicitly formulated piece of advice in the tweets doesn’t make a difference in any of the queried variables and style of addressing has only small effects: formal address leads to slightly more positive opinions about police performance than impersonal address.

The results show that formulation aspects – specifically framing – are worth taking into account in safety communications and that this type of research is beneficial for studying effects of social media.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-22
Number of pages22
JournalOpen Library of Humanities
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • police
  • social media
  • safety
  • neighbourhoods


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