31: Police communication in the digital era - The police use of social media in the area of ​​tension ranging between information obligation and independent information

Yilmaz, Gizem1,2

  1. University of Applied Sciences of the Grisons Research Associate, Institute for Multimedia Production, Chur, Switzerland
  2. Freie Universität Berlin

The police, as part of the executive power and thus part of the public administration, is obliged to inform the population in an appropriate manner. However, digitization poses a challenge here that requires the constant adaptation of communication channels in police work. Police organizations as part of government communications “need to change in order to remain relevant and to continue to effectively fulfill their constitutional mandate” (Raupp, Kocks, Murphy 2018: 1). However, the police are still uncertain about how to deal with the digital space, especially with communication in social media (Rüdiger 2019: 23). Above all, there is a lack of an overarching strategy that regulates the structure and content of communication in the digital space (Rüdiger 2019: 23).

The fundamental difficulty that the use of social media brings with it in public administration is based on legal restrictions on the publication of content (Breyer-Mayländer, Zerres 2021: 142). Because everything that has to do with state affairs can quickly trigger a social or legal discourse, which is why there are limits to both state public relations and administrative communication (Raupp, Kocks, Murphy 2018; Kocks, Knorre, Kocks 2020). For this reason, it will be examined what is permitted in terms of police communication in social media in Switzerland, i.e., how free the police are in their decisions, what is part of the information obligation and whether there is perhaps talk of persuasive communication by the state (Neuroni, Trappel 2006; Prier 2017; Persily, Tucker 2020). In addition to the legal and political aspects, it must be examined to which personnel and organizational adjustments must be made to be able to clarify responsibilities for the use of social media in police work (Bruhn 2019: 73; Breyer-Mayländer, Zerres 2021: 148), who produces the content, what is produced in what form, and on which channels this content is published. This is an important part of the work, because to master the "field of tension between official organizational logic and the functional logic of social media" (Kocks, Knorre, Kocks 2020: 3), competencies must be specifically developed (Breyer-Mayländer, Zerres 2021: 150).

This tension between the increasing need for digital forms of communication and legal restrictions raises the following research question: How do the police in Switzerland use social media, what regulatory framework conditions exist, who produces the content and how is it produced?

Consequently, this work consists of three levels of investigation:

  1. Legal and political level: objectives, tasks and obligations of the police, interaction of the state levels

  2. Structural level: Who produces the content and how? How is police communication organized? In particular, police influencers and persuasive communicators are examined in more detail here.

  3. Content level: What, how and on which channels do the police / police influencers communicate?

The planned research is based on theoretical approaches to public administration and administrative communication (Kocks, Knorre, Kocks 2020). In addition, theoretical aspects of political communication (Jarren, Donges 2002) and public relations (Raupp, Kocks, Murphy 2018: 1) are discussed.

In general, the review of the existing work makes clear the need for an own analysis, which will be covered with the help of a multi-method research design with the combination of qualitative and quantitative procedures. In a first step, the cantonal police fill an online survey in order to identify the most interesting research cases which are then examined multimodally for their Instagram and TikTok content. Several city police are also involved, which are particularly active on TikTok and are known to the population. Subsequently, expert interviews are conducted with these cases and other state actors in order to understand their strategies and backgrounds.


Breyer-Mayländer, Thomas; Zerres, Christopher (2021): Social Media im kommunalen Sektor, Wiesbaden: Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden.

Bruhn, M. (2019): Marketing, Grundlagen für Studium und Praxis (14th ed.), Wiesbaden: Springer Gabler.

Jarren, Otfried & Donges, Patrick (2002): Politische Kommunikation in der Mediengesellschaft. Eine Einführung, Wiesbaden: Springer Fachmedien.

Kocks, Klaus; Knorre, Susanne; Kocks, Jan Niklas (Ed.) (2020): Öffentliche Verwaltung – Verwaltung in der Öffentlichkeit – Herausforderungen und Chancen der Kommunikation öffentlicher Institutionen, Wiesbaden: Springer Fachmedien.

Neuroni, Alessia C.; Trappel, Josef: Politische Kommunikation der Verwaltung (14.11.2006), retrieved from http://www.sgvw.ch/2006/11/14/politische-kommunikation-der-verwaltung/

Persily, Nathaniel; Tucker, Joshua A. (2020): Social Media and Democracy – The State of the Field, Prospects for Reform, Cambridge University Press.

Prier, Jarred (2017): Commanding the Trend: Social Media as Information Warfare, in: Strategic Studies Quarterly, Vol. 11, No. 4 (Winter 2017), 50-85, Air University Press.

Raupp, Juliana; Kocks, Jan Niklas; Murphy, Kim (Ed.) (2018): Regierungskommunikation und staatliche Öffentlichkeitsarbeit, Implikationen des technologisch induzierten Medienwandels, Wiesbaden: Springer Fachmedien.

Rüdiger, Thomas-Gabriel (2019): Polizei im digitalen Raum, in: Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte – Polizei, Vol. 69, No. 21–23, 20 (May 2019).