EDMONTON – Impersonating a police officer is a crime, even when it happens on Twitter.
Early Thursday morning, New Brunswick RCMP notified Alberta RCMP that there seemed to be a Twitter account claiming to be RCMP K Division.
“It’s @Krcmp and looks just like an official account,” explained Janine Avery, Alberta RCMP’s communications specialist. “It has the crest, it has ‘we protect the citizens of Alberta,’ has a little bit of a write-up about them and links to our national website. So right away, this is a big concern for us.”
“Anyone from the public… could think that this was a legit RCMP account, which it was not,” said Sgt. Josee Valiquette. “It’s a public safety issue … somebody could give guidance or direction that is not from us.”
Plus, it’s a crime.
“In Canada, it is illegal to impersonate a police officer,” said Valiquette. “Under Section 131 in the Criminal Code, it’s illegal to do that, and the maximum penalty could be up to five years imprisonment.”
Once Avery was notified about the other account, she followed Twitter’s protocol to report it. She sent out a warning to the Alberta RCMP’s Twitter followers that it was not the real RCMP account.
Then, she sent a message to the account in question.
“I followed that with sort of – if you will – a callout tweet and … asked them, ‘remove your account, you’re impersonating the police,’ and hashtagged it ‘you have the right to remain tweetless.'”
— RCMP Alberta (@RCMPAlberta) June 26, 2014
That tweet – and the hashtag in particular – received quite the positive response, said Avery.
“We saw that as an opportunity to tell them ‘take down your account’ but also maybe draw a little bit of attention to it and have our followers kind of pick up on it, because, first and foremost, we need to inform our followers that they’re not real.
“I thought that would be another way to get that message out there in a fun, Twitter-like way.”
Avery acknowledges that social media presents unique challenges for law enforcement agencies. However, she feels the Alberta RCMP account should still be authentic and display some personality.
“Twitter has its own sort of way of dealing with things, and I wanted to keep it in that vein and use that to our advantage,” she said.
“Twitter gives us that opportunity to step out of the box a little bit. In many roles, we have to be very professional; we have to be very defined in how we speak, in how we communicate. This lets us come out of our box a little bit and show a little bit of the RCMP personality, because we’ve got lots.”
After roughly 36 hours online, the @Krcmp account was suspended.
The RCMP would not comment on the investigation and would not say whether charges would be laid.
© Shaw Media, 2014