Students respond to crime with social media

Some use Twitter and Facebook to inform; others use them for satire.

by Meara Cummings

Whether it’s to help inform students or make them laugh, social media accounts are popping up in response to recent crime on and around campus.

University of Minnesota students are using the Internet to open up a dialogue about crime, which some said they started because the University Police Department lacks a social media presence.

The creator of the @UMNCRIME Twitter account, a child psychology sophomore, said she started the account in November to distribute crime information quickly. She asked to remain anonymous since people often send her crime information.

“I wanted to create an account where I could post what happened so people could know about it before the crime report comes out three days later,” she said.

The account has since gained more than 1,200 followers.

“The whole account’s purpose is to inform,” she said. “It’s not there for politics; it’s just so students can know what’s going on and where so they can be better prepared.”

Materials science and engineering junior Daniel Mueller created a Facebook group called UMN Crime Watch in November. The group has 137 members and serves as a place to not only inform, he said, but also to discuss the recent crime on campus.

“[The Facebook group] Overheard at the U of M was becoming almost nothing but crime posts on some days, and so obviously there needed to be a public forum,” Mueller said.

The page is full of updates from different members posting crime alerts and asking questions related to recent crimes in the area.

“People become more aware of the crimes because of [social media],” Mueller said. “So they may take extra steps to try and keep themselves safe, and that may overall reduce the amount of crime.”

Official University police presence on social media is minimal. An official department Facebook page has just more than 500 “likes,” and it posts occasional crime alerts or public safety updates. A page administrator also sometimes leaves long replies to posts from others on the page.

Another student account began in early January with a more lighthearted tone. @UMNPD is a parody police scanner account that posts mock crime alerts.

Sports management sophomore Mateo Fischer said he created the account to give students a laugh among the seriousness of the issue.

“It’s to keep people lighthearted when their minds are otherwise fixated on the crime that’s occurring,” Fischer said.

The tweets range from almost believable to ridiculous. Fischer said he’s seen the work University police do and thinks students underestimate their presence.

“[The account is] a mix of both a satire of the crime itself and the complaints that many of the students have of the police force on campus being inept,” he said.

The @UMNCRIME creator said social media could help decrease the crime by making students more aware of it.

“In our generation now, our communities are social media,” she said. “It’s the main way we reach out.”